Awaken The Dawn

It is 6 o’something in the morning, but it feels like it could be any other time. The sun is still hiding under the blankets of night. Raindrops are racing each other to be the first to hit the ground, little stealthy runners in a vertical marathon. Everything is wet. I feel like a sweater in a giant washing machine, filling further and further, but promising that everything about me will soon get clean.

I have just walked into my house, just seen what makes this wood and cement feel like home. He is laying on the couch, legs splayed. He is so big that for a moment, I can’t believe this man-child is, in fact, my son. I walk closer, staring, but seeing into the past. I hear his deep breathing, and watch as the blanket moves up and down, illuminated only by the light barely coming through from the street lamp. He silently shifts, and his foot sticks out, man-sized, but dirty in a way that shows how much he is still a boy.

I am tired, and spent, and too emotionally fragile from spending so much time at work, to allow myself the big questions that mothers ask.

He shifts, again, and I wonder if my thoughts have been too loud, or if he is disturbed that my heart hangs so heavily this morning, that it feels as though it is dragging behind me on the ground. I walk silently, Stick Indian, to the other couch. I am exhausted, but not the kind that is cured by laying down.

It has been ten and a half years now that I have worked where I work. A little over a decade of trying to help children who know more about some kinds of pain than I do. Usually, I focus on all the hope. I look tirelessly for the light that shines in the dark, because I know it is there, and because someone has to find it. I want so badly to help find it. But last night felt like more layers of darkness than usual, like my flashlight was dimmer, and like happy endings are elusive.

I received an update on a  child that I loved, who was at my work years ago, for months. Instead of improving, her life has gotten so much worse. Can I just be honest, and say that I hate that?

I work with a team of amazing people. People I believe are really changing the earth. People whose hearts are big enough to hold not only children’s hands, but their hurts. People who know what it means to work. I always hope that it is enough. That we can be a giant drop of love, big enough that it gives them a life preserver or respite from drowning in their sea of hurt. But sometimes, it isn’t. And that just sucks. Because, sometimes, children continue to get hurt.

My son is moving, and I know that he will soon wake. It is time for smiling, and making sure he has a good start to his day. It is time to roll up the carpets of the part of my chest that ache, time to sweep out the cobwebs, and begin, again. The sun will rise, as it does each day, and chase the darkness back to its place. It is time for new mercies, and for things to be refreshed. I need that this morning, even more than usual.

Closing my eyes, I inhale deeply. I fill up my lungs, and breathe out, slowly. I do this, several times. When I open my eyes, I find, that in spite of everything, the sky has brightened, and the morning has come.

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Dear Cancer…

I know that letters usually start off with a greeting, or at least, a “Hi, how are you?”, but I know how you have been. You have been busy. Too busy. You seem to be burning the candle at both ends, which isn’t good for anyone. Why don’t you slow down, take a long vacation, maybe even retire early. There are so many beautiful places on this earth that are uninhabited by humans, why don’t you go there? Put up your feet, and rest with an umbrella drink at your side. Or at least, don’t bother coming here. I will forgive you for never darkening my doorstep, for never tasting my cooking, for never finding rest in my home.

I know that you and I go way back. That you have been close to my family since before I was born. I saw how you came to stay with great aunts and uncles, when I was a child and didn’t understand who you are. Quickly, I learned that just the mention of your name means that adults cry and shake their heads, and that children pretend to keep playing, so they can hear what is going on, without being sent to their rooms.

It was the year that I turned 16, when in a two week span, both my father and grandfather were given your name as their diagnosis. Two years later, I would graduate high school without the man in the audience who had promised to be there. You took from me the most special of persons, my grandpa. The man who’s blue eyes sparkled and would tear as he told a joke, or when something touched his generous, southern heart. The man who tugged my braids and called me Pocahontas, and made me want to wear my hair that way forever.

You left my father, after surgeons deftly separated you from him. He was there, at my graduations, my wedding, and still is.

But two years ago, you stole from me again. You took my grandma, like the most ungracious of dance partners, never letting hope cut in. You twirled her through breast cancer, and dipped her too low. You slowly waltzed her across brain cancer’s marbled ballroom floor. Though dizzy, she rebelled against your rhythms, and moved to her own beat, swaying gracefully, until two weeks before Christmas, when the band stopped. Then life as I knew it, stopped, and we had to figure out what our family is, again.

My doctor recently informed me that I am at a higher risk than most, for having you in my life. I wanted to scream, that, no, that is not possible, because my family has already met the quota. We have given uncles and aunts, mothers and fathers, siblings, and friends. You couldn’t possibly still be hungry, after you have consumed all the lives that they still had left to live. But just in case, you are sitting there with google maps, planning out your route, let me try and save you the trip.

There is too much at stake for me to leave this planet early. There are five sweet babies asleep upstairs who only know me as Mommy. There is a boy, age 10, just on the cusp of becoming a man. He is sweet and sensitive, and careful with the hearts of others. But he is still learning how much he is loved. He has the blue eyes and middle name of the great-grandfather he never got to meet. He is kind, and funny, and still innocent enough to tear up when he misses him Mommy. He changes what he wants to become on a weekly basis, and I need to be there to see what he chooses. I need to yell from the stands, my awkwardly loud support for his choices. His darkest days are mostly all ahead, and someone will need to be a soft place for him to land.

The four girls have each other, but of course, in very real ways still need their mother. They are growing so fast, and taking everything much too personally. They need someone there to see their truth, and remind them of who they are, in those times that they forget. They need cuddles and encouragement, kindness and modeled strength.

One of them wants to be a gymnast, then a doctor and a mom when she grows up. She is fierce, athletic, and brave. She speaks her mind, reminds me of myself, and tries to hide the fact that she gets afraid. This child feels like redemption to me. Like I am on this earth to love her in the ways that I needed as a child, and didn’t always get.

Her twin wants to be a ballerina. She is tall and willowy, with feet that barely touch the ground when she walks. She is artistic, smart, and loves to create. She wants to own an ice cream shop so that she can make everyone happy, while having a job that she can take her children to. She thinks and feels deeply, and needs her mommy to help build her up, when her 7 year old emotions are crumbling from within.

There are two more of them, a two year old and a four year old, who round out our family. The four year old has more determination than most fully grown men. She is brilliant and intense. She is charming and has eyes that belong on a Disney ingénue. She hugs me so tightly that she often pops my neck. She will need a guide for wading through deeper waters than she has ever been in, and I want so badly to help sail that ship.

The two year old has dimples, concave perfection, on unblemished skin. She has a deep, thick voice, through which laughter comes easily. She loves babies and dancing, and every kind of food. She loves baths and bedtime stories, and sings Row Your Boat on command. She is lovely, and cuddly, and filled with joy. She has not been on this earth long enough to realize that some Mommies leave and don’t come back. I love her too much to let her life be a question, filled with what-ifs.

I know that some people are glad for your visit. That after you leave they feel reborn and grateful. But, I already see what I have. I don’t need tragedy to make sure that I make the most of my time. I am acutely aware of every day that I cash in. I am truly thankful for these abundant gifts. Please, RSVP as No, and don’t come crashing in.

Why I’m Going…

This afternoon, I went back to Zumba. I know, blah, blah, blah. But, for the three of you still reading this, I will admit that it took courage. And really, I have been struggling with being that kind of brave since last June, or maybe since college. It is a very different thing to go and shake a body that moves when you don’t want it to, than it is to go and dance with a toned, disciplined body. At least, I imagine that it is. I don’t really know, as I have been overweight since grade school. The difference is, I didn’t really know it. Mostly.

I mean, of course, I knew I was bigger than most of my friends, but in my head, I was lithe and gorgeous, at least until a few years ago. Perception is a funny thing. Seeing your true weight in the mirror of photographs, is not so humorous. I guess maybe it’s because when I think of people, I think of who they are, talented, good, kind, funny, smart…I don’t usually think of people based on clothing size. And let’s face it, denial has been one of my besties for years, as far as my health goes. But, things change, and I need them to.

You know how so many things are hidden in plain sight? Like, they’re right in front of you, but you don’t see them for years? Yep, me too. It was this last summer that I actually realized that my arms need to be exercised and targeted in a specific way in order to look better. I know it’s ridiculous, even my husband laughed. But, it’s true. I kind of just thought, well, I’m big, so of course my arms are big…. Whatever.

But life is not made of whatever. Not a good life, anyway. Life is made up of a million little things that matter, and somehow, I had forgotten that I matter. That what I eat matters. That what I do matters. And, that there are five little people who are watching every choice I make as if it truly matters. Because to them, it does. Those five little people mean more to me than anything else. I make sure they know it. I make sure they eat healthily and get exercise. I am a guard dog about what they watch on Netflix, how much sleep they get, and the brushing of their teeth. I read studies about how many hugs and “atta boys” my children need to thrive, and then I follow through.

But for myself, not so much.

Fortunately, things have a way of coming around. Life tends to offer more chances than most of us deserve. So, I’m taking it. I got my butt back to Weight Watchers, and the rest of me back to Zumba class. I am sure that I will fail, and get discouraged or bored, and make a mess of things. But, then I will try again. Because that’s what you do. Life is worth every moment of embarrassment and fear and resolve that it takes to go to a public place and workout. It is worth all the sweaty, unattractive, red-faced, offbeat steps that it will take to get myself healthier. At least, the life I want to have for myself and pass on to my children, is worth it.

I have been given  gifts that I can never repay. The use of these arms and legs, my body’s defiance of the diabetes that runs in my family, and the ability to choose my own path. I’ve taken all of that for granted for a long time. But not today. Today, I had the courage to walk into a room where I was the biggest person, hold my head high, and dance. I plan on repeating that act this Thursday, and hopefully a thousand more times. Only I can save my own life. No one else can do this for me. And besides, who would be there to knock over the fan if I don’t go?