In Love's Eyes
A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call and heard some sad news, in a week that had already been filled with sad and stressful news.
In this year of global pandemic, the only way to survive I've found is to move through each day unobtrusively, trying not to over-think anything, counting on a cup of hot coffee in the morning, and a glass of wine in the evening (maybe, better, a steaming cup of herbal tea). Depends on the evening.
Between these two bookends there is work, done increasingly more and more in a small home office, with new family coworkers whose jobs or second grade class have nothing to do with your work. There are no boundaries around life anymore, no division between home and work and play (what is play)? and duty.
Instead there is a mindless shuffle, downstairs to the laundry room, upstairs to the kitchen, out the back gate to the alley to dump out the trash, a weekly grocery trip: time to wear pants that button! Do they still button?
Over the past two months we've been in and out of church: as Covid swept through my church's small town and even our congregation, and I've led worship from home, returning again to live-streaming from church with a couple of other brave souls and a silent sanctuary.
Apparently Christmas is still coming. We put up our tree last Friday, brought out the warm brown and white faux fur blankets and red mugs and hung stockings on the mantle.
Here in Minnesota we had snow in October, but now it's December and inexplicably green, though the leaves have long fallen.
I started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my kids each night, and each night for a chapter or two, we enter into the wardrobe world of Narnia. I give in to the story, dipping my voice to put on a slight English accent to match C.S. Lewis' writing. I tell myself it sounds charming.
The story repeats this line over and over again about Narnia: that it is a land where it is always winter but never Christmas.
Looking out my window upon the bare brown bark of winter's unadorned trees; the grass pitifully poking its blades out into the frigid air, shivering and turning brown in the early afternoon sun, before darkness comes at 4:30 p.m.; I imagine that 2020 could be Narnia: a world where it is always winter but never Christmas.
Always working but never done.
Always virtual school but never recess.
There is an unfinished-ness in the air in America today, whether it's the death knells of the claims of voter fraud in the presidential election, or the hastily pasted signs in the windows of our local shops and restaurants: take-out, curbside pick-up, order online. BUY BUY BUY.
It is a feeling of never enough. Everyone is trying hard, but it's never enough: never enough hospital workers, never enough treatments, never enough money, never enough time, never enough sleep.
As various public health leaders look back to one year ago today and ask: "What could we have done differently?" I imagine the strangeness of pandemic life has many of us asking the same: wondering about our lives and the choices we've made. Was it enough? Will it ever be enough?
In Narnia it's always winter and never Christmas, but in our house when winter begins soon it's always Ben's birthday. Today is the day: Dec. 2, nestled right between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Lots of years we'd go to his parents' house in Kansas City for Thanksgiving, and, before we had kids, we'd spend the day Black Friday/birthday shopping. Ben never even had to carry his own bags; that's how much fun we all had celebrating his day with him: me and his parents; them, watching their youngest son grow into an adult, still with that auburn hair that looked like his Grandpa Wilbur, and the smile that said he was even happier than he was letting on.
I don't know if on those days or other days he realized how much we loved him; or today the delight in our boys' eyes when they hand over birthday cards made especially for Dad.
Too often, especially in these short days of pandemic life and worries over lockdowns and livelihoods, when we grow introspective we view ourselves and our lives through a cruel prism of wanting and longing and fatigue and regret.
I started writing about that evening a few weeks ago when I got that sad phone call. Digesting the news, I walked past our bed and stood in the center of the closet Ben built for me last year, in the bedroom that used to be the garage of our 1953-built Minneapolis home. I stood there and stared blankly ahead, seeing stretched in front of me the short days and long nights of work and worry and quiet desperation.
I turned around then and he was standing there next to me, bathed in the overhead IKEA light he'd wired in with his dad, screwing in the bulb on the black and white stepladder that accompanied us from Chicago to Southern California back to here, the icy upper Midwest where we'd stay and, against our will, put down roots and leave behind our rootless young marriage.
I turned around and saw myself for a brief moment reflected in his eyes, my whole wretched body standing in front of him: the too-thin hair, the saggy stomach, the tired eyes, the potential wrapped up in alternating failure and fleeting success. In his eyes all this was gone and there was only a shining silence and a flash of love and light, like the first beams of sunlight on freshly fallen white snow, on a winter morning that always leads to Christmas.