It goes like this…the minor fall, the major lift.
About a dozen years ago, I went canoeing down the Cahaba River in Birmingham with some “friends.” Toward the end of our journey, we approached a rocky island in the center of the water where people were parking their canoes and going swimming. We pulled up and joined in, realizing that there was a point right off the island where the current would pull you in a semicircle and deposit you back on the other side of the rocks. It looked fun–to everyone but me. Ever a slave to peer pressure and approval, though, I waited my turn and, when the water was clear, swam toward the current.
I knew it would happen before it did. The current pulled me reliably away from the island, but I panicked and fought it. I couldn’t just let it hold me and carry me–I had to exert some sort of control. So I paddled and kicked my way right out of the current’s hold and pushed myself back out into the open river and its downstream current. I was adrift. Within seconds the island was a dot behind me and I quickly grew exhausted. The water seemed to be climbing around me as I struggled to remain afloat. With a canoe at their disposal, these friends chose to remain on shore and yell out instructions. “Paddle back this way! You have to SWIM!” I am, dammit, I thought. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place. I was running on empty and felt certain I was about to drown. Somehow I summoned the strength to push myself toward the island and back into the current that deposited me safely onto its shore.
(I did not, however, remain friends with those assholes who almost let me drown.)
I’m just now, as I prepare for my forties (what the literal FUCK), realizing how annoyingly little of the running of the universe has to do with me. Right down to the tiny details of my own life, and my family’s. My children’s, in particular. I wish I had spent all the time I used reading parenting and sleep-training books and put it toward catching up on Netflix shows, as I would have been equally prepared for parenting, and more interesting at cocktail parties. Little of what I geared up for has happened; and most of what has happened? Totally unprepared for. The truest parenting book that could be written would just be a bunch of blank pages with a prescription in the epilogue for Xanax. Maybe throw in directions to the nearest grace-driven, non-bullshitty church, and you’re done. Because, as my pastor reminded me this morning when I went to his office in an effort to complain to management about how God is treating me? So much of the spiritual life–of life, period–is spent in the activity of uncurling my hands from fists into open palms.
It’s only the open hand that receives the manna. That receives the bread and the wine. Which, as previously mentioned, is so damn annoying. Because God should know at this point what an amazing micromanager I am, and is clearly unconcerned with tapping into that skill set.
Lately we’ve been adjusting to the school-year schedule around here, which has been its own form of letting go. Teething Little Brother has chosen to let go of predictable naps: as I type this, he lies on the couch beside me, a product of his choice to take a crap in his diaper rather than a nap in his crib, which led me to throw him in the car and drive to get a milkshake, a ride that put him to sleep within five minutes. And The Kid? He’s letting go of not talking. His teachers regale me every day with something new he’s said, and the questions I posed to him last year on our way home from school, the one-sided, unanswered questions that sank into my heart like rocks, they are now met with so many words: What did you eat for breakfast? Where did you play? What else did you do? Pancakes. Indoor recess. Social time. (WTF is social time?) He will not stop talking, and I remember how people told me, with pity and encouragement, how one day he’d speak so much I’d wish he were more quiet, and how I’d smile thinly and, inwardly, invite them to go to hell–and how now, I have to remind myself sometimes that these words are a blessing. An answer to prayer. I remember how we had the speech evaluation for a device that would speak for him as he chose words with his finger, how we waited to find out what portion insurance would cover, and by the time I got the multi-hundred-dollar total that would be our part, he was speaking on his own. How I threw the paper with the total on it away.
How we put him in therapy after therapy and prayed and begged and pleaded, but what really happened is this: We kept speaking to him, and one day he spoke back.
This is grace, unfolding in seasons, apparently swooping in at the last moment when it’s actually been there the whole time, unspooling this whole story the way it was always meant to be.
Now I sit cross-legged atop a huge cushion with a pillow at my knees as LB stands on the oversized chair in front of me, bouncing on it because that’s another rule I once set and now break, and a second later he’s launched himself through the air. He lands in my lap, where he lands every time, and this little risk-taker, this creature full of faith, is somehow mine.
Then there’s his brother, who is most definitely mine as we walk into the pool party that’s already assembled. I feel his grip on my hand tighten, see the anxiety in his eyes that dart back and forth, am pulled by the current of his need to survey the scene, scope out the perimeter. I tell him it’s okay, reading by rote from the script that has never worked for me, and my own anxiety rises at my inability to immediately calm him. To make everything okay.
He finally locates the brownies–BROWNIES were the answer?!–and another parent, a friend of ours who has somehow become his favorite in the last five minutes, and he spends the next half hour entertaining the group on our side of the pool with a charm he did not learn from me or any book. I relax a bit and grab a glass of wine (related), and a few minutes later I see him, near his brother in the baby pool, arm floats in place as he bends comfortably into the water he was afraid of just a few weeks ago. I see his mouth moving–he’s talking even to himself now!–then I see the grin spread across his face. The grin of conquering fear, of feeling freedom, of pure joy. And it happened without my doing anything to bring it about. I turn to my friend, who’s just had her third, and recall what my counselor had told me about his third–how she turned out so well because they parented her the least. Maybe that was the book I needed to read.
TK splashes in the water; my heart soars. It is in the opening of hands that the bread shows up, that life arrives. It’s in the “yes” to the uninvited angel, the “Here I am, send me,” the “As you wish” rolling down the hill. It’s the letting go that makes space for the miracle.