“What she had could not quite be put into words, but the best way to capture it may be to say that she knew what wasn’t true.” –Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway
I’m in a season of learning what’s not true.
The Kid and I talked about it the other night as he was falling asleep, Little Brother already sacked out beside us. This is when so many of our meaningful conversations occur now, in that space between daylight and night, the twilight seeping through their window, the coming darkness allowing fears to float to the surface and feelings to be whispered before dreams transform them into images. He was talking about feeling sad, about how Year One is so much different, and harder, than kindy; how it makes him sad when I leave. He asked what would happen if we all disappeared and he was left alone in the house and I did the thing parents do: I made a promise I have no real power to keep, telling him that will never happen. That we are with him.
“And God is with me?” he asked, calling for divine assurance in the way only children (and distrusting adults, ahem) can: as backup. As co-pilot.
“Yes, always,” I told him, because we believe these things even as we doubt them, even as all evidence points to the contrary. Believe me, I’ve tried the opposite. Didn’t take.
“He’s in my heart? He’ll never leave me alone?” he asked, assurance and reassurance stacking upon each other, never enough.
“Yes,” I said, and told him one painful yet freeing thing I’ve learned: that our feelings can lie to us. That when the sad turns to being afraid, to be suspicious, because this could be a lie. Sometimes sad is real, and must be felt. But sometimes it can be based on a feeling that is based on a lie.
Because I’ve been learning it–what isn’t true–so that I can tell them what is.
I’ve learned that feeling happy isn’t what keeps us safe. That easy isn’t always better. I’d rather remember this in years when things are easier, when he skips into school and can’t wait to go back, rather than a year in which (so far) every day is a struggle to get through the gate and the classroom door. But I don’t remember it as well then, do I? I don’t need to.
I’ve learned that it isn’t me who ultimately protects him. That my hands can only hold–and hold back–so much.
I’ve learned that some amount of letting go is always necessary, and always awful.
I’ve learned that I can’t stay at his school and stare through the window all day with a video camera. APPARENTLY.
I’ve learned that the bottom of a bottle of wine may not hold all the answers.
I’ve learned that running from feelings just makes them run faster to catch up.
I’ve learned there are no blood tests for what TK and I have, these anxieties that plague us, that turn into spectres that dog us and clench our insides until we must be unravelled to be healed.
But I’ve also learned other things.
I’ve learned that the hands that are big enough to hold my children also have room for me, if I will let them. That grace operates independent of mathematic principles, because the more I need, the more it abounds. The more I use, the more is left over.
I’ve learned that I can’t stay with him at school, but I can go into his room when he calls at night, and I can lie between him and LB and answer their questions just at the point when I’m so spent I think I have nothing left, and grace will tiptoe in and be enough for all of us. I’ve learned that they can fall asleep hearing the truth.
I’ve learned that sitting down with feelings and facing them, rather than running to some other distraction, can leave them both disempowered and somehow befriended. which makes them scream less. Which…helps.
I’ve learned that, for me, the bottom of the bottle may not hold the answers but a glass or two can, and the truth for me lies on some murky line in that deep red liquid.
I’ve learned that both anxiety and hope are future-focused and that we carry both, and are formed by both, and will be freed in the midst of both.
I’ve learned that I have one kid who, at his brother’s age, wouldn’t sit still for or participate in a group class, but that I have one, LB, who will be the star of Gymbaroo his first week. That pitying glances and “oh, he’s so cute!” exclamations don’t begin to sum up either of my children.
I’ve learned that I have one kid who didn’t speak until he was four, and that I have one who, at three, pronounces to everyone in the grocery store that “broccoli smells like farts.”
And I’ve learned this: that at their baptisms, neither much liked the water spilled over their heads by hands that loved them, but that now, they ask what it all means; they watch the babies up front endure the same and turn to us with grins on their faces, knowing they’re a part of something. That they are held by things deeper than feelings, by blood and water, bread and wine, promises kept.
I’ve learned that hallelujahs that are broken are still hallelujahs. That they may, even, be the best kind.