“It is getting tricky for me to fix your hair... I feel like I am having to reach UP for the top of your head.”
It was the night before her first day of in-person school. After a year-plus of at-home virtual learning, 8 months into her 6th grade year, she was actually going to be in the building. This gradual, part-time ease into school at the very end of the year felt incredibly anti-climactic in some ways. But in others, it was huge.
And so, I realized, was my daughter.
For the last year or so, she has been allllllllmost as tall as me. Starting to borrow my shoes. She walked up to me the other day while I was standing in line at the grocery store, put her arm around me and said, “what’s up, Shorty?” And she was looking me square in the eye.
And here we were, on the eve of her real live Middle School career-- asking me for a rare blow-dry because FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (even if it is April); and I realized that the window of her being the same height as me had lasted all of 24 hours. I was literally reaching UP.
“Wait, turn around,” I said. I shifted her around so we were standing back to back in the mirror, and there it was. It was obvious-- this child is taller than me.
This will surprise no one who knows my family. I am 5’2”, so being “taller than mom” is not a huge achievement around here. And my husband is 6’7” in his socks, so we all knew this day of reckoning with his gene pool was coming for me.
She had a moment of delighted, if slightly baffled laughter, as I looked UP at this child I created from scratch. And then she said, all seriousness, "I could sit in a chair, if you need me to..."
It may come to that soon, it really might. But for now, I can still reach her. And for now, I am just sitting here in awe at how much time marches on. Even in a lock-down year when time seemed to be standing still most days. The kids were growing-- and growing right past me--every second.
* * *
We have this little dog, a Jack Russell(ish) named Van Halen. He is mostly just “Van,” unless he’s in trouble, in which case it is his full name. We got him from a rescue when he was probably a year to two years old. This was a year before our daughter was born, so we calculate his age as “Harper-plus-2.” Which means he is probably about 14 now. Maybe 15, at the high end of counting.
I don’t have to tell you that, in dog years, that is getting up there.
He still gets around pretty well for an old man, though he is starting to do strange old dog things. He doesn’t hear very well so you have to get really close to call him now. He is getting much less tolerant of small children, strangers, and really, people in general who want to touch him or be in his space. And most recently--sometimes, in the evening, he will just cry for awhile.
It is truly pitiful to see this dog who has always been so full of life and boundless energy just roaming or sitting in his favorite chair, whining for no apparent reason. I have figured out this behavior correlates with Tuesday nights, when dad has band practice at a friend’s house and is out late. When he’s gone to work during the day, Van is fine. But if it gets past dark and he’s not around, there is something unsettling about that for the dog. I wonder if it is, in some ways, a creeping doubt about his ability to be the Alpha and protect the family when his man-person isn’t home.
Then again, perhaps I am reading too much into the existential struggles of a dog. Maybe his joints just hurt more at night. Maybe he needs more attention.
Maybe he is just sad.
Or maybe he knows that, even in the times when every day seems the same, when a year goes by and we’ve scarcely left the house, when nothing else has been certain or predictable or really seemed to “happen” at all… time just keeps coming. And at some point, we stop growing and just get older.
* * *
Wednesday was the weirdest weather day I have ever experienced. And I’ve lived in Kansas, where you can have a blizzard one day and a tornado the next. I’ve lived in Arizona, where the “fall” means you need a heavy jacket in the morning, and by afternoon it will be 105 in the shade.
We woke up, this third week of April in Kentucky, to snow on the ground. By late morning, the sun came out, and the snow was melting in huge, clumsy clumps that sounded like someone throwing snowballs at my roof. By noon, it was sunny and all the snow was gone.
And then, about 2pm, it started snowing again. Big heavy, wet snow that stuck to nothing, but came down for a solid several hours all the same. It went on like this all afternoon.
By 6pm, we were at baseball practice and the sun was shining. It was bizarre.
They say if you don’t like the weather in Kentucky, stay for 24 hours and it will change. In this case, it was more like 10 hours-- from Spring to Winter and back to Spring again. Like I say, bizarre. But also, a stunning reminder that this, too shall pass. That the sun always comes back eventually. And that a whole season can fly by in what seems like a moment.
We are, all of us, in deep time. Sometimes we can feel it ticking by in minutes and days; at other times, we catch a glimpse of what it is to measure in lifetimes, generations, eons. The tree at the National Park that is a thousand years old. The artifact at the museum that is ten thousand years old. The outline of the Appalachian Mountains that defy calculation, but speak to time that has begun turning back on itself--grinding back to the dust what it once drew out of the bedrock.
* * *
By the time she went to bed, on the night before the “first” day of school, my daughter was finding less hilarity in her ability to look down at her mother. “I don’t want to be taller than you,” she said. “I like being AS tall as you… but I don’t want to be taller.”
“Yeah, but here we are,” I said. “What can I say, you’ve got your daddy’s legs. We knew this day was coming for us.” It is some consolation to her, I suppose, that she can steal my shoes now. For now.
As with all things that grow, evolve, or live out their season, it is somehow both the most unsettling and the most comforting truth imaginable: that time can crawl, or time can fly by-- but it is always, always moving. And bringing us along in its wake.
Tonight I pray for the most hated man in America.
Not that he be comforted.
Not that he find peace.
But that he might know a thing we call
Because if there might ever be a moment of
“Dear God, what have I done,”
If there might be a shock of horror
At glancing in the mirror,
A slight shudder of
“Whose blood is this on my hands?”
Then maybe there can be this thing that we sometimes call
Tonight I pray for the most hated man,
For the ones who handed him a gun.
For a nation that raised him to fear brown people,
Grew him up to worship the idol of his own whiteness,
And then handed him a gun again, saying
“Here, go protect us
From that one over there,
With his hands pinned behind him.
Go shield us from that man,
Calling out for his mother.”
Let there be a collective sigh tonight of
Lord hear our prayer
And what is it that we have done?
And may we someday fully account for
the number of souls,
Whose blood runs in rivers down city streets
In all this shining, sinful land.
Tonight I will pray for the most hated man,
For all the terror that the bars won’t keep out,
For all the rage that the walls hold in.
Not for his comfort.
Not for his peace.
But that he might know a thing that we call
Transformation-- even if we little know
What it means.
And I pray that he might,
For the rest of his captive days,
Speak with reverence the name of the one
Whose breath he stopped
On bended knee.
“Um, it’s my turn to Take a Selfish.” “No, David. You selfished last time.”
This is one of my favorite sibling moments on Schitt’s Creek, and it comes early in the show when we are still learning that David and Alexis do, for all their dysfunction, have a unique sibling bond. In this moment, you a) hear them speak in sib-code, which only people who have been close for many years can do, and b) get a little more of their backstory as they argue about who last took a selfish, and for what purpose. Part of the beauty of a well-written show is that they don’t have to stop here and explain (for the viewers’ benefit) what it means to “take a selfish.” Even if we don’t have that particular shorthand for it, hopefully we are lucky enough to have a few close relationships-- a sibling, a spouse, a lifelong friend--with whom we have such a history… meaning that we have the space to, occasionally, take a selfish.
I don't know about y'all, but I feel like I’ve been taking a selfish for a solid year.
As the world (or at least our privileged, nearly-vaccinated corner of it) eases back into some semblance of a new normal, I’ve heard a lot of people refer to a “lost year.” A year with no school, no family gatherings, no travel...maybe little work, or few interactions with those outside the home. I respect the sentiment, but I don’t really think of the year as ‘lost.’ Time went on, the seasons changed, and life continued to happen, even if it wasn’t what we were used to. But I am starting to think of it as a selfish year. At least, for me.
For many people, this season has been anything but a selfish one. For healthcare workers, it has been the most demanding time imaginable. For those who are caregivers for elderly or ill family members, it has taken everything they’ve had to give. Educators and other school staff, who have scrambled to keep reaching kids amid unthinkable challenges and constantly changing protocols-- these are the least selfish folks I know.
But me? I feel like I’ve spent a year nesting in, focused entirely on myself and my own family. Granted, in a global pandemic, that’s what we’re supposed to do-- survive and care for the people in our bubble. If we are not frontline workers or caregivers, our best contribution throughout this ordeal has been to stay home; to keep our family’s germs out of the mix so that others could do what they needed to do without added risk of exposure, and without us taking up space in a crowded hospital. But other than keeping my own family safe, and contributing financially to some folks I thought were doing good work… well, it has been a selfish year.
Even knowing that this was not entirely a bad thing (and not entirely avoidable), it seems like now it is going to be difficult-- or at least, take some intention--to break out of this mindset. I’ve always tried to live as an outwardly focused person. But a year of being physically grounded has turned me inward, and I suspect I’m not the only one. How do we go back to living out there in a bigger world? Making room for other people? Reaching out instead of huddling in?
My hunch is, it will not be a switch that we can flip by sheer will. “I CALL AN UNSELFISH!”
Nope. Didn’t work.
I don’t know, fam. I don’t know how we break out of the fortresses we have built from necessity. All I can say is, if you have spent this season of quarantine out there serving others, thank you. And if you have spent it at home, doing your part to dampen the curve, then thank you for that, too. My hope is that whatever comes next will be informed by the spirit in which we have done both things-- that the communities we build (or rebuild) now will have the foundation of all our best, unselfish intentions.
One of the things that has brought me joy in this season has been watching Schitt’s Creek (okay, twice) and finally getting what all of the fuss is about. Initially, I couldn’t get into it. Like many others, I said “These characters are terrible people! I don’t care what happens to them!” If you are still in that place, reader, let me tell you-- it gets better. They are, at the outset, shallow and utterly selfish, yet. They are a family that has built an inwardly focused world because wealth and privilege has allowed them to do so. In those early episodes, they don’t know how to connect with each other, let alone this strange little town where they find themselves sequestered.
But--pardon the small spoiler, this is important--it story of the Rose family is ultimately a story of transformation. The journey of people who experience a crisis of loss as a moment to shift their focus and broaden their world; to realize that they are, in fact, part of a wider community, whether they initially like it or not; that they have responsibility to take part in the world around them and, a foreign concept to them, their neighbors actually care about them too. Part of why the first season is so hard to watch is because they are resisting this reality in which they belong to other people. It is a selfish year. But in the end, they have all grown into people you can relate to; brilliantly flawed characters who have learned how to meaningfully participate in the world around them.
Perhaps it can happen that way.
I've spent most of the week in the Blue Ridge mountains, on a much needed Spring Break trip with my fam and our friends/framily. (I hate that word, because it is so precious. But also, it is the right word sometimes. Especially during these quarantine days, when ‘framily’ are the only people we have had around for more than a year).
After a few days of driving and hiking these mountains--on a day when we have some particularly squirrelly kids in the backseat, and a confused/homesick dog, and the men-folk are out doing mountain men mountain biking things-- I say to my friend, “is it just me, or do all these trees look...dead?”
I mean, everything else is blooming. There are flowers everywhere, and the evergreen brand of trees are looking all bright and aggressively spring-like, and the grass is neon green and just begging to be a deer snack, and life in general is coming up roses. But half of the trees in the forest around us seem… well, they have seen better days. “A little sus,” as the kids would say. Completely dry, barren and brown. Kindling. It’s not looking good. But maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about?
“No,” my friend says, “I thought so too.”
It really does look like half the Pisgah National forest has just decided to call it. Pandemic year + climate change + downfall of civilization. Who would blame a tree for just giving up the ghost?
I was concerned. For the hawks swooping hopefully overhead. For that deer in the road that stopped and, I swear, looked us dead in the eye for a second before sighing and sauntering off into her dying habitat. For the bears that supposedly lurked in the shadows, waiting to eat our trash--but who had remained on the DL for the duration of spring break and so, must surely lurk on the brink of extinction as well.
It is possible we’re all in a fatalistic mood these days. Can you blame us? Because, let’s be real. Look around. The earth is a dying life form. We are just accessories.
But on the third day…
Early in the morning, on the third day, while it was still dark--it started to rain.
I don’t mean a cute little spring shower. I’m talking cats and dogs here. A gully-washer, a deluge, a downpour. For about 12 hours straight.
The earth got a generous soaking while we slept. And by mid-morning, when I ventured out onto the porch with my coffee (and if there is anything better than vacation coffee on the porch, in the mountains, in the rain, then I don’t know what), the first thing I noticed was--green. Everywhere.
All those dead-looking trees had bloomed overnight. In the cold, in the dark, in the holler, a tiny bud just waited to be called out by the rain. In its time, it came.
Maybe Ma Nature didn’t get the memo that Easter was not for a few more days yet. But she beats the pants off the liturgical calendar, every single time.
For my money, in this year that has felt like one long winter/Lent/Holy Week of holding our collective breath, the breathtaking suddenness of that green was about all the church I needed.
As Roethke said: "deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light." Everything in its season. All things bloom in good time.
Or, if you prefer the gospel of Springsteen: "everything dies, baby, that's a fact/but maybe everything that dies someday comes back."
May it be so. Amen.