Love’s Impulse

Sometimes I think my dog’s approach to stress-inducing situations – loose Samoyeds, renegade lizards sunning themselves on the front porch, live broadcasts – is the only reasonable response to the crazy in this world. He stands there, shaking and drooling, refusing either to engage or to ignore.

In recent weeks, I have felt increasingly like Steve Martin in the opening sequence of the movie Roxanne. He’s jauntily walking down the street, eager to begin his morning. He reaches into his pocket to pull out a quarter to put into the newspaper vending machine. He pulls out one copy of the paper and continues his cheerful gait for about six steps. As the morning edition’s headline starts to sink in, he slows. He stops. Panicking, he flails his way back to the vending machine, playing a version of hot potato with the Times, reaches into his pocket for another quarter, stuffs the newspaper back into the vending machine and quickly closes the lid. Deep breath. Then he resumes his cheerful journey down the sidewalk. This scene resonates with me now more than ever. I cannot tolerate the front page of the paper. Or much of what’s on the inside. Not that I often get past Page One. Every day it seems to takes less time for me to rush the paper to the recycling bin.

I want to be informed. I really do. I want to be open-minded. I really do. I cannot stand the level of hateful, inflammatory, vindictive conduct and the divisive commentary. I just can’t. I wonder if I’m better off not knowing.

But then the truly horrifying events happen, discrimination in its ugliest forms, rapidly increasing climate change, political abuses of power that leave families stranded and hungry, an explosion aimed at children. It’s too much. The images leave us paralyzed. Fear’s intent is to immobilize us. What could we possibly do in the face of so much evil? The drooling and shaking begin.

The sorrowful night is solitary and cold.

Chaos swirls, and the overwhelming dark of evil and confusion takes over. It’s almost impossible to breathe. I wait. I sit. I cry and tremble. In the midst of paralyzing fear and frustration, there comes – briefly – a moment of stillness. Stillness, which is an altogether different experience than paralysis.

Sitting in the dark, the light slowly, confidently, begins to show its presence. I feel Love’s impulse. A moment of inspiration. A smile. A full breath. Fear loosens its grasp on my attention, and I notice that good is happening. People are moving together with one beating heart. I hear Love’s message to Her people: You are enough. Peace begins small, quiet and soft in safe, secluded places and grows in strength. Fear no longer stops me in my tracks, even if it forces a cosmic pause, and I continue forward with joy and purpose. Hope lights up a single cloud in the blue early morning sky, and it is enough to propel me into the morning.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. You are enough.

A Moment’s Hesitation

I like Christmas. Really, I do. But I’m not feeling it. Not yet.

This approach is pretty much my process with life in general. But also with newborn babies, even the One in the manger. I’m one of those women who spent the first trimester of her pregnancies – and, in fact, the better part of the second trimester – hopelessly nauseated. As thrilled as I was for the baby to arrive, it was hard to feel excitement from my vantage point on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. There were some maternity clothes that I could not tolerate wearing the second time around, because I had thrown up in them so often the first time that the mere sight of those clothes made me nauseated and green.

I love being a mother, but I do not love the experience of pregnancy. I don’t think I need to feel guilty about this. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person – or even a bad mother. Transformation is hard. Things that never challenged me before I was pregnant became difficult, excruciating, frustrating. I never had trouble catching a full breath before I was expecting. I never experienced insomnia before I was pregnant. Never suffered from indigestion. Never had sciatica. No weird numbness, bone-crushing exhaustion or obvious brain damage. I reached the point in each of my pregnancies where I thought, “This body simply cannot handle the two of us. One of us has to go, and it’s you, baby.” But even in the midst of it all the physical discomfort, anxiety and impressive weight gain, I started to get excited. A new life is a miracle. It’s breathtaking. It’s full of hope and joy and love. The truly crazy part is that, notwithstanding all my quacking and moaning, I wanted to participate in the process another time.

There’s a reason that the angel’s first words to Mary are “Fear not.” Because the range of fear running from garden-variety anxiety to abject terror is an entirely reasonable human response to the whole situation. If we really knew what transformation would require, would we still agree? If we really knew, we would be foolish not to be afraid. It’s overwhelming. Mary’s “Yes” always amazes me. Granted, it is easier to say yes when you’re 13 and haven’t yet been assaulted by life’s many disappointments. But still. My initial response is almost always “No” (even when I was a young girl, and especially now that I’m not). Which eventually turns to “Well, maybe.” Until it finally becomes and “Ok, fine!”

Yes, already.

I don’t think this makes me a bad person – or even a bad Christian. I adore carols and Christmas tunes. Nothing makes me happier than finding the perfect gift. But I don’t love the hoopla and the tinsel and the lists. The whole holiday rigmarole makes me feel tense and overwhelmed and impoverished. I prefer the silent reverence. I love the tender, quietly inspired moments, preferably with a book and a niece in my lap. The whiff of her baby breath still hints of heaven, and as I hold her, I imagine the light that she alone brings into the world. Then I feel the spirit of the season. I love a table full of my own children, and I love drawing additional chairs to the table to include more. Their laughter fills me with joy. I love an evening decorating our tree, carefully unwrapping each of my mother’s hand-crafted needlepointed ornaments. There might be just a splash of whiskey in my glass of eggnog. Another festive family tradition.

I love Christmas. Really, I do. But I am mindful that there are those for whom this holiday season will be achingly lonely. That disappointment, fear and depression combine like a dense fog to chill and dissipate the light. There are families whose losses cast a palpable shadow on traditions that will never quite be the same again. Including my own family. And so I pause.

I do not jump headlong into this season with child-like exuberance. Instead, I keep the Thanksgiving pumpkins and chrysanthemums on the front porch for just a few more days. And then I start with stillness, and I wait for light. I approach hesitantly, hoping, expecting, and yes, trusting that the light is on its way. I ease gently into this season of imagination, wonder and hope.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your holiday path. And moments of stillness.