Waiting to find out which colleges will accept Jack for next fall. (So far, one yes, one no, one wait list.) Waiting to see what choices he’ll make and which school — after a year of working and living on his own and figuring out whether he even wants to go to college at all — will finally feel like “the one.” Waiting to see if the next round of X-rays will show further healing in his two broken vertebrae. Waiting for his pain to disappear. Waiting to find out if he’ll be able to play tennis again or have to content himself with being a passionate fan. Waiting to learn which doors have closed in his young life and which have yet to open before him.
We’re waiting to hear if the job Henry has his heart set on will pan out. Waiting for the musical he’s co-directing to be performed. Waiting to know where he’ll be working for the summer. Waiting to find out where he’ll be living next year. Waiting to see if he’s going to need a car. Waiting for him to decide whether grad school is still part of the picture. Waiting to see if the pull of a someday-maybe Broadway dream turns out to be as powerfully alluring as the illusion of security conferred by a paycheck and a plan.
We are waiting for two young adults’ ever-shifting and unknowable futures to become the nailed-down and predictable present-tense, for dreams to become reality, hopes to be realized, expectations fulfilled, applications accepted or denied, next steps executed, careers revealed, life to turn this way or that.
And then another letter arrives from a reader who has lost a child. I turn the calendar to March and realize it’s been ten years since my dear friend’s son was murdered three months before his college graduation while trying to save a teammate who was being beaten on a street corner. I open the newspaper and read the headline: “BU student dies at party.” A new friend on Facebook posts that, had her daughter lived, she would be turning twelve today. I find myself in tears as I read Emily Rapp’s fiercely moving memoir of parenting her son Ronan, who died of Tay- Sachs disease last month, just shy of his third birthday.
Life is long, I like to tell myself. But of course, that isn’t always true. Everything will turn out for the best, we assure our children, and ourselves. But that’s not always the case either. Sometimes life is cut short. And sometimes the most beautiful dreams are derailed by tragedy. Sometimes children get sick or hurt and sometimes they leave us. How foolish and naive, to think we think we can skim along on the surface of life without cultivating, at the same time, an intimate relationship with its dark and unknown depths. And how much we sacrifice when we trade the quiet, unobtrusive pulse of the moment that is right here, right now, for the false promise of some brightly imagined future.
Last night, while Henry and his dad watched the Celtics game on TV, I climbed into bed with Emily Rapp’s book, Still Point of the Turning World. Ronan’s brief life was never about making progress or racking up achievements; he was only nine months old when his parents were told their baby boy was going to die. Emily’s task, then, wasn’t ever to prepare her son to succeed in the world, but to love him just as he was for as long as he was here. Somehow, every moment of her mothering had to contain multitudes: both the joy of being Ronan’s mom and the grief of letting him go.
Perhaps there is no one better suited to speak to us distracted, harried, future-oriented parents than a mother who has had no choice but to live in the “now” and to embrace her child in the moment because he will not live long enough to have a “someday.”
“How does the knowledge that nothing lasts forever and that all of our time is limited change the way we approach the world?” Emily asks.
And then, like the best spiritual mentors, she answers her own unanswerable question with more questions:
“Will we be fearless in our pursuit to live a life we consider big and beautiful, no matter what other people might think of our choices and no matter what difficult changes we might have to make? How does this knowledge affect the way we parent? Not knowing what tomorrow will bring, would we be so concerned with our children’s ‘progress’ and perhaps more interested in activities that simply make them happy?”
The sun is rising as I type these words, pouring light into the sky after two days of snow. In a few minutes, I’ll shut down my computer, take a shower, go out for blueberry pancakes with my husband and older son. Later today, I’ll do a reading at the bookstore in the town where I grew up. I’ll hold up the 12-foot long piece of blue finger-knitting that Jack did when he was five, giving me the title for my first book, Mitten Strings for God, which contained everything I knew as a young mother about slowing down and paying attention. And then I’ll drive to the bus stop and pick up my 20-year-old son and bring him back to the house for dinner. We’ll light the candles, hold hands for a moment before we start to eat, say “Blessings on the meal and each other.”
I will mention, as I always do when we’re all home together, how happy I am to have everyone at the table. My husband will agree and our sons, who have yet to fully comprehend that each human life is a progression of farewells, will no doubt roll their eyes.
And then I’ll remind myself: there is nothing to wait for. All we need, we have.
To read an essay by Emily Rapp and watch her Today Show appearance, click here.
And I cannot recommend her exquisitely written and profoundly generous book, Still Point of the Turning World, highly enough.
Magical Journey News
Months before my book was published, I told my friend Ann Patchett that my only real aspiration as an author was to do an event at her bookstore. So it was definitely a disappointment to get all the way to Nashville during publication week in January, only to have an ice storm shut the entire city down an hour before I was supposed to read. Happily, we’ve rescheduled just before Mother’s Day. I’ll be back at Parnassus on Thursday, May 2.
From Nashville, I’ll go straight to Minneapolis for my last two appearances: The annual Motherhood and Words talk at the Loft Literary Center on Saturday, May 4 and, finally, to cap it all off, a reading at Common Good Books, Garrison Keillor’s beloved bookstore in downtown St. Paul on Monday, May 6. I can’t wait! (And then I’m looking forward to coming home for good, stowing my suitcase in the closet, and digging in the garden.)
Magical Journey is a book that seems to sell one copy at at a time, as one reader says to another, “Here, I think you’ll like this, too.” I haven’t seen it piled up on any bookstores’ front tables (except right here in my own hometown). There were no print ads, no big TV breaks, barely any reviews. And yet I am learning not to underestimate the power of word of mouth, of women’s passionate enthusiasm for books that speak to our real experience, and of our generosity toward one another. This morning, I signed 20 copies of Magical Journey and The Gift of an Ordinary Day for one California reader who is sending them to her special friends. This is word of mouth and then some!
Meanwhile, the online ripples continue to spread outward. If you’ve contributed to those widening circles — by liking my Facebook page, writing a review on Amazon, showing my video to your friends, or sharing my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter — thank you! (And if you’d like to help me by helping my book find its way in the world, these are quick and highly effective ways to keep it moving!) As you know, I’m always happy to sign bookplates (just drop me an email or FB message) and I can personalize copies of any of my books through my local bookstore, which will mail them right out to you. (That link is HERE.)
Loved these recent reviews and interviews:
Ali Edwards is a rock star to crafty types, with a huge and devoted following (and no wonder, her message about telling our own ordinary stories with words and pictures is as inspiring as it is irresistible). So of course I was pretty thrilled to be featured on her blog this week. Click here to read her lovely piece.
The Ali ripple effect actually began HERE, with Harriet Cabelly’s terrific Rebuild Your Life site.
I was honored when Amy Makechnie asked if I’d be her first interviewee in her new “fascinating person” series; I should have known she’d come up with questions as engaging as she herself is. Read the whole Maisymak interview HERE.