“Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you!”
In the Thornton Wilder play Our Town, the young Emily Webb, who has died in childbirth, pleads for a chance to relive a day of her life. Although she is warned by others among the dead that this is not a good idea, she chooses to do so anyway. The result is a feeling of regret, deep regret, that she failed to really see the important people and events in her life. Furthermore, she did not notice or appreciate the little things at all. Thus it is with all of us. Life is full of little moments that go unnoticed. Our recollection of major events may even be somewhat hazy, and we certainly take for granted, often, those we hold most dear.
Yesterday I attended the memorial service for my husband’s aunt, whom I actually only met once, many years ago. Hearing the way her minister friend spoke of her at the service makes me wish I had really known her. But the experience did even more than that, for me. You see, while I do not believe that every moment should be “cherished”, because some moments are just too awful, I do believe that every moment should be noticed. The bad things can be learned from and make us appreciate the wonderful things even more. I realize this is kind of a no-brainer, but yesterday I had a very profound moment of perspective about my kids.
I love my kids. I think of myself as resembling the Italian mama described in the book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, who “yells at her kids and slaps them around and hugs them a lot.” Disclaimer: I do not actually “slap my kids around”, but I am very emotional .I do fully admit to yelling at my kids, but I also hug them and squeeze them and tell them how amazing they are-because they are. If I ask them, “You know how much I love you,right?” I get the head-shaking, half-smiling, somewhat exasperated, of course, Mom! When I tease them and ask if they want me to make their lunches, complete with sandwiches cut out in the shapes of duckies and hearts, or attend a birthday party with them to make sure no one is mean, I get the lifted eyebrow and Mom! That would be soooo embarrassing!
I think that we are doing pretty well. In seven and half years we have all come a long, long way, despite mistakes and misunderstandings. I have three kids who are smart, compassionate, loving, creative, self-sufficient ,funny , and (sometimes) responsible. We have dealt with criticism from some people who don’t really understand what it is like to suddenly become parents of three older children with attachment disorder, but mostly we have had tremendous support and encouragement from family and friends. For that I am incredibly grateful. Still, I would be the world’s worst liar if I said that I have cherished every moment. I haven’t. I have, however, tried to learn from all of the messy, confusing, sometimes tragic events that have occurred in my life, both before and since the arrival of the children.
One thing I do know is that there are no words to really describe how I feel about my children-or my husband, for that matter. Sometimes just looking at the four of them moves me to tears and I am completely overwhelmed. I do not deserve the blessings God has given me-but then, who does? I think of those little moments, good and bad, and I realize that there is nothing that I would really change. I think of the night I danced with my girls out in front of Shakes after eating a frozen custard shake that could potentially have put me into a chocolate coma. There we were, under the lights, out there for the people flying by in their cars on the highway to see, although I doubt they noticed. We were making up our own moves and laughing hysterically, and I tucked the memory away in my heart. I recall the first-ever completely unsolicited hug from my son. I remember birthdays and Christmases and Easters and completely ordinary days. I try to focus on the details, and if I don’t journal them, I simply file them away in my memory. This is because there is something else I do know-the staggering, heartbreaking, unreal reality of losing someone you love.
So I come back to yesterday. I saw my children watching their “Granna” as she cried quietly. The song “Go Rest High On That Mountain” was playing. My husband leaned forward and embraced his Aunt Gayle. I grabbed my son’s hand and I thought, I have lost my father and I do not want to lose my mother. I do not want to lose my sisters. And, oh, Father God, please, please do not let me outlive my children or my husband. Earlier, I had pointed out my children to their Granna and their Aunt Gayle, and both of them gasped. They actually gasped. They had not seen the kids in three years and they literally did not recognize them. As the kids moved forward to hug them, I almost didn’t recognize them either. For just a moment, I saw them through other eyes. They are not little kids, they are young adults. My youngest will be thirteen in a few short days. They all look older than they actually are. Some of this is purely related to physical development, but they also have old eyes. You have to look very deep to see it, but it is there. What they suffered in the years before they came home to us initiated them too soon. I wish I could get those early years back for them, but I cannot. Because I cannot, I encourage them to focus on the now-and the future.
Yesterday I got just a glimpse of who my children will be. I have not had them long enough to be ready to let them go. I cannot look at them enough or spend enough time with them. It is all too fleeting. It is all too fast. My sister is fond of saying, in regard to children, “Don’t blink.” It’s so true. Life itself is so very brief, and in an instant, someone can be gone. Pay attention to the little things. As Steven Curtis Chapman says, “Don’t miss the miracle of the moment.” Dan Fogelberg said, “There’s magic every moment.” Robert Frost-“Nothing gold can stay.” William Wordsworth-“Nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower.” This is a common theme among poets and songwriters as well as ministers and theologians. Thus when Emily asks, “Do people ever realize life while they’re living it?” the reply is “Well, the saints and poets-maybe they do, some.”
Be a poet. Be a saint. Turn up the music. At the end, let us all be able to say, like Jimmy Buffett, “Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.”