I had an amazing experience this week. It is hard for me to tell about it, because I had to look into the face of suffering to see it. But I want to tell it. I have to tell it. I am bursting to tell it.
On Monday, I went to visit my niece, Marti Love. She is a beautiful girl with fiery red hair and the sweetest, most gentle little spirit. She is eleven years old, loves to sing, loves to laugh, loves to spend time with her Mama and her Daddy and her little brother. She is the kind of child that people love instantly. They love her deeply because she is so sincere, so kind, and so genuinely sweet. And they are all touched by how brave, how selfless, and how brightly her little soul shines. I went to see her in the hospital, where she was (and is) wrapped up in wires and bags, laying in a bed, in recovery from brain surgery. Treatment after treatment, test after test, she has patiently endured so much suffering as they have searched for a way to fight this relentless tumor in her head. Last week, they cut most of it out.
When Rosie, my bouncy, happy, healthy six-year-old daughter and I walked in, the first thing Marti did was ask us how we were. The entire time we were there, she did not complain once. She was so genuinely gracious and thankful for every small gesture of kindness–a quick drawing we made, a flower Rosie cut out of paper for her, etc. She was stunningly sweet and strikingly beautiful, even though her physical body has changed so much since she was a carefree little girl. Her soul was beautiful, perfectly clear, perfectly at peace. When we were leaving, she asked Rosie for a hug, then asked in a serious voice if Rosie would do her a big favor. She nodded, and Marti said, “Would you go over there and hug my Mama?” This is what she is like. Always thinking of others. Always serving, always giving, always selfless. It was amazing to be in her presence.
When we left, I felt such a mixture of so many things: sadness that someone so young and full of sweetness and life has had to endure so much, aching that things like this can and do happen in this world, embarrassed by my own petty concerns about things like house payments and grocery bills, convicted of taking so many things for granted–(thinking! speaking! walking!), fear for her future, hope for her future, the sinking feeling that life is not in our hands at all, the surge of relief that life is not in our hands at all… So much to process coming from such a place.
I came home. I walked into a warm house. It was warm from the running, jumping, zipping, zooming, dancing, laughing, crying, yelling, and bouncing of the day. The house was a beautiful wreck of laundry and dishes and scattered toys. I was welcomed home with long hugs and eager stories about Darth Vader and play-doh. I made dinner out of bare cupboards, and it was a glorious feast. I sat down on a well-worn couch with my husband, and we watched a movie. It was so extraordinary. Not the movie. The movie was nothing. But the sitting on the couch. That was extraordinary. Deep cushions, tucked into the corner of it, close to the body that I love more than any other human body in this world. Amazing. I had another incredible experience: I heated water in a tea kettle, and a steady puff of steam sang from the open mouth. I mixed water and dry leaves and made a glorious crimson cup of fragrant tea. I bent my legs and sat. I sat with ease–without effort. No joints ached. The cushion was soft and deep and received me like a child sitting in her mother’s lap. A thousand miracles happened while I was drinking a cup of tea. When I wanted a sip, I just reached out, picked up the cup, put it to my lips, and drank. My brain was busy the whole time, sending messages to my fingers, my arm, my elbow, my shoulder, my mouth, my tongue. Blood was just pumping through my body the whole time. My breath was rich and full and full of ease. My children were sleeping in their beds without even colds. They were beautiful. Their bodies just resting there, full of peace, trusting that sleep is a good place to go. And I was downstairs, trusting that they would wake in the morning, scramble down the stairs, interrupt (with wonderful, hopeful enthusiasm) whatever I might be doing to tell me they would like to draw or paint or play with play-doh or beg me to get down my wedding dress or ask if it is warm enough to go swimming in our plastic pool or say they wish we could have french toast or ask me if we can go to Grandma and Grandad’s or tell me they had a good dream or a bad dream or no dreams at all… The rush of words and ideas will just come at me like a wave.
It is so easy to drown in it.
It is so easy to drown in it.
It is so easy to drown.
But I refuse.
I want to stop and hug them tightly and look into their clear, beautiful eyes, and say “yes” as often as I can.
The world is dark. The sun is on the other side. I hear the hum of the morning—white nosie, the conversations of distant birds, the memory of sounds. No one in my house is yet awake. It is so still and quiet. My mind is buzzing with questions that can not be answered.
I believe in life after this life. I believe it and I truly expect it. I believe that we do live forever. So the life that we have here on earth is only a small part of our eternal existence. And though I do believe that eternal life will be better than life on this earth, it is something that is totally unfamiliar, which I cannot imagine or understand. And for that reason, this life that we are living now represents almost everything I know about home. And I love it. And I love the bodies that wrap around the souls of the people I know. The strength and warmth of my husband’s arms. The soft, violet-shimmer of my red-headed daughter’s eyelids. The animation that makes my little boy go. My Rosie’s face, which is uniquely alive with every beautiful emotion. The baby is round and soft and kneadable like warm bread dough.
I want to taste things slowly–keeping this mouthful of coffee right here a little longer, letting the bitter and sweet rest on my tongue and balance the flavor to perfection. I want to walk out into the world and let all the colors of the morning fill my eyes. I want to reach out and touch the people around me. I want to look deeply into the faces of the people I love. I want to forgive quickly and easily and completely. I want to send packages in the mail. I want to plant a garden and watch how things grow. I want to slow down.
I want to wake up to the miracle of every moment.
This is the extraordinary gift that my little niece continues, day by day, to give to me.