As Zoe happily plans and re-plans her birthday party, I find myself thinking more and more often, “It’s almost been a year!” Almost a year since I dissolved on Sara’s kitchen floor with my cell phone to my ear while Zoe and Lucy happily chirped away at the table doing art. I’m sure I’ll revisit that day and the days that followed with increasing frequency as the anniversary approaches and brings with it Zoe’s joyful 5th birthday. But today, I keep thinking about what happened within days of my diagnosis. Three friends came to me. They dropped everything and came. All from different states. All with equally busy lives. They showed up and sat with me. I know they came only because I have photographic proof, thanks to Karl. And because they left notes around the house—-many of which still hang in their original quirky places. I was so completely stressed out when they were here that I have almost no memory of what we did together. Only that they came. And they sat with me. And they filled my house up with love.
Especially when I was home with Zoe as a baby, my lens to the world was through catalogs. J.Jill, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, Garnet Hill, Sundance. I’d welcome their arrival in the mailbox with exhuberance and sit down to read them only when I knew I’d have a quiet moment. And I’d let myself into that tranquil catalog and away from the grimy countertops in my kitchen or the spit-up that was drying on my shoulder. In catalog-land everything was pristine and hip and arty and perfect. Mark used to tell me that these catalogs were lifestyle crack–attractive, addictive, and ultimately eternally elusive. He’d point out to me that every model in every shot was doing exactly nothing. In fact sometimes the models were quite literallly navel-gazing. The catalogs were not just marketing clothes, furniture, etc., they were marketing an absurd life of infinite leisure.
Today as I was running back into the house at 4:30 p.m., having left at 7 a.m., preparing to leave again at 5:15, I grabbed the mail. In it, was a Sundance catalog. It’s been a while since I’ve dived headfirst into this particular bit of nonsense, but apparently it’s been long enough for the “lifestyle crack” tag to be abundantly clear to me. Perhaps it’s because, (as much as I love to do my crafty little things around the house) I have absolutely no interest in a life of infinite leisure knowing that I’m simply not cut out for it, but the cover actually made me laugh out loud it was so over the top. Here it is. A woman standing in her flowing artsy dress barefoot on the top of a perfectly hip Jeep painting at an easel in the desert. Is it not hysterical? Really, who thinks of these things?
Please… roll your eyes with me, will you?
Zoe and I went to Ash Wednesday services tonight. It was a first for both of us, though each year I’ve had such good intentions of going. As we sat there, often in silence, I found myself fixating on the mark of the ash that would soon be on my forehead. The ashes’ indication of my mortality, my inherent need for a savior.
The mark of the ash introduces us to the world as the mortals we’d rather forget we are. Tells our neighbor that, while we may seem just fine, we really are going to die.
The mark of the ash seems to me to be strangely similar to the bald head of chemotherapy. When I was bald I wore my illness and my mortality on my head. A good wig, of course, made my bald head less noticeable, but when the eyebrows and eyelashes accompanied the hair already down the drain, it got tougher to camoflage. I was marked and there was no way to get around it.
Now, with a newly highlighted coif, it’s easy to blend into the world of the well. Easier, too, for me to forget my own disease. This mark of the ash brought it back to me. Put it right back on my forehead for everyone to see.
But this nice thing was, after the service was over, I saw it on the foreheads of everyone around me, too. We were all marked. We are all marked. It was as if we all stood there with chemo-bald heads looking at eachother a little warily. Beginning these forty days of Lent with a bit of a start, a jolt. Oh, right, we’re all going to die. All of us.
And then we wait these forty days. Some of us depriving ourselves of a favorite indulgence. Some of us committed to doing something better. Some of us convinced that giving something up for Lent is only for Catholics. But all of us waiting.
For that Easter. When we can look around at our marks of ash, at our bald heads, and know that death has been swallowed up in victory. That our ashy foreheads are clean for all eternity and our bald heads are covered with immortal hair.
Perhaps I’ve never attended an Ash Wednesday service because I don’t do Ash Wednesday all that well. I keep fast forwarding to Easter.
Motherhood has certainly held its share of surprises for me. I didn’t expect to wipe the kitchen counters so often. I had no idea how awful it was to see my baby get an immunization. I didn’t know I’d get so attached to the smell of Dreft.
I also didn’t know that I would love my daughter’s friends so much. Admittedly, I am friends with their parents too, so some of my affection for them comes from my affection for their whole families. However, I find that I am as drawn to these fascinating little people as much as Zoe is. They fill up our photo albums, delight our days, and elicit the kind of giggles from Zoe that make my heart swell. They are God’s extravagant gift to an only child.
They’re darn cute, too.
The Chimes reunion this weekend had me thinking about my college years. Looking back at some old issues of Chimes, I can see myself as a person so full of absolutes. And I remember feeling especially certain about what my life would be like after college. I even had a bet with a friend about what we’d be doing five years after graduation. My vision was that I’d be living on one coast teaching English and driving my lime green convertible to the opposite coast to run a bookstore during the summers. My travelling companions, I knew clearly, would be two large dogs. I believe there was even something in there about a floppy sunhat.
I’ve obviously lost that bet, but it seems I shouldn’t have to pay since my friend said that he’d be going to seminary and he joined the circus instead. Really. He joined the actual circus.
So, no lime green convertible. No bookstore. I do have a dog… I am slowly assessing how my real life stacks up against the life I dreamt up.
And, being fond of lists, I’ve started a mental list of the things I do now that, when I was in college, I was certain I would NEVER do. Here it is so far…
1. I care about how clean my house is…
2. especially when my sister comes over.
3. I have a dog that jumps up on people.
4. I have seriously considered taking cake decorating classes–and probably would have by now if I hadn’t stopped eating sugar.
5. I am completely lacking in mystery. (I used to think an air of mystery should be cultivated–culminating, of course, in an unearthing of a colorful past in one’s old age by a captivated young writer. I now know that, scarcity of captivated young writers aside, I am inherently incapable of mystery.)
6. I have voted Republican (does it count if I was related to the candidate?)
7. I keep a journal that is so tame my daughter may someday read it.
8. I spend valuable energy mentally rearranging the junk in my attic.
9. I don’t read to my child for 1 hour a day.
10. My child watches TV…
11. Every day.
12. I am transforming no one’s life through literature.
13. I am not fluent in any foreign language.
14. I am living in my hometown with no intention of leaving.
15. Did I mention my complete lack of mystery?
16. I drive a minivan.
17. I don’t eat cheese.
18. I wear many different tones of green at the same time (with apologies to Jane for forbidding her to do so in 1992).
Good thing I dress my kid in hand-me-downs and still shop at thrift stores or I’d think my 19 year old self would run into me, roll her eyes, and walk away. And I’d have to stand there and smile.
My dear friend, Sara, introduced me to the Charlie & Lola books a few months ago. Since then, I’ve been gobbling up everything that Lauren Child has written. I’ve been smitten not only by her clever writing, but by her collage illustrations.
And, since the consumate little sister in me makes me copy anything I like, I made a family portrait collage in the spirit of Lauren Child. By spirit, I mean I drew a few things on paper and glued lots of things together. I have no illusions that my craft nears hers at all, but I am getting a kick out of it.
Grandpa Turner to Zoe last night: “Zoe, you are a pretty little girl.”
Zoe in reply: “And you are a pretty old man!”
Here’s the pretty pair at Christmas:
When I was doing chemotherapy, hymns ran through my mind like mantras. It didn’t seem as if I had heard or thought of the song in a terribly long time and then I would be lying in bed staring at the blue walls of our bedroom while “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” resounded inexplicably in my head. I came to talk about these hymns as the work of the Holy Spirit–bringing comfort to me in my dark times.
Today I have a different hymn running through my head. It is one that we have sung in church only once. It was chosen by a congregant celebrating his 100th birthday. The morning that we sang it, Mark and I sat in front of a dear man in our church who sang this hymn gustily, and in a distinctive Dutch brogue. Perhaps that’s what cemented it in my mind–that uniquely accented English which is immediately fond to me.
I have been unexpectedly happy and peaceful of late. My life seems to be in a lovely balance despite the cancer in my lungs and I find myself relatively bemused by that. As I bustle about my house doing snow day things, running laundry upstairs, laughing with Zoe, looking in the refrigerator for the 20th time, not quite knowing what I’m looking for, I catch myself reveling in the normalcy of life today. The contented vibe that surrounds our family. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that peace can conquer fear. The kind Dutchman in my head steadily assures me that “he givet, ant givet, ant givet again.”
The lyrics are:
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Fatherâ€™s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.