I overheard her telling someone that nothing could really hurt her. When you have been broken more times than the years you have lived, and when your heart has been shattered into a million tiny pieces, you already know the worst kinds of hurt. What more could there possibly be that you have yet to endure? She collected what fragments she could in the aftermath of brokenness, and she hurled them at anyone that stood in her way. Those who were closest to her, those who were in the line of fire, felt the deepest hurt. This hurt, though, was a hundred million times softer than the hurt, than the grief that had swallowed her as Jonah in the belly of the whale, with no clear route to escape.
We were sometimes allowed to stay up until ten o’clock on Friday nights. I remember being an early riser as a young child, and I could probably have been the first to the television on Saturday mornings even if I had been last to bed the night before. I did not, though, find the charm in most cartoons. My mind would drift, and I would not really understand what was happening on the screen. I think I still have that going today, for more than just cartoons. I did, though enjoy the Popeye show. Olive Oyl was tall and skinny, and I admired the skirts that she wore. I liked Sweet Pea, the baby in his little sleeper, best of all. And I heard Popeye’s message loudly and clearly: eat spinach, for it will make you strong. I really like spinach, and I owe it all to Popeye. These days, I can eat fresh spinach by the handful from my garden. And I am still trying to find my strength.
If you believe something, it’s closer to happening than if you don’t. The hope is there, pulsing in its existence. My babies, my sons who are now grown men, believed in me, because I gave them life. I was what they knew, and they trusted me, even without having a soft place to land. They looked to me to be there for them, and they needed me, even in my own frailty, when inside I was full of fear. It has not been the same for those children, my children who have come to me bearing the weight of another life lived. They are skeptical. They test and challenge. They do not believe. They make me question my own truth, strength, and integrity. My hands shake, blood rushes through my legs, and I am overcome by my own acts of hypervigilance which cause me to stay awake, wide-eyed, tears flowing, fearing the cobra as I anticipate the nearly undetectable sound of the coil and wonder when the next strike will be.
I wonder, too, how long it will take for her to trust, to believe, and if she even ever will. She certainly is strong, but it isn’t from eating spinach. Well, there is a little spinach in our recipe for tortellini soup. But that isn’t what Popeye had in mind. Time and again, she is overwhelmed by her own conflict and disbelief.
Two times before, I fancied hummingbirds as backyard visitors. I prepared the nectar, hung the feeders, and waited for something that wouldn’t happen. Once I even forgot about the nectar for a long while, only to remember when I discovered a sticky mess and a trail of ants where my dreams of a magical little bird had been waiting to manifest. Earlier this month, I was shopping for chicken feed when I chanced upon a pretty little red glass, vintage-looking feeder. It was my message to try again, though I needed, first, to find my faith that they would one day come. We chose a spot just outside the kitchen window, and Dan hung the feeder with a repurposed candelabra that we had found behind the barn. It looked lovely, just as it was. I knew it would take time, and I would try to remember to refill the nectar this time.
Maybe it’s the collective spinach that you eat, over years and years, that gives you the kind of strength that you need to believe. More than likely, though, it’s time, patience, a sense of purpose, and knowing that you are truly, deeply loved that will make the difference in the end. When all the fight is gone, battle-weary and vulnerable, we turn to our Maker, knowing that this is what He had in mind for us all along.
My shoulder stung where my embattled eight-year-old had sunk his frustration and his fingernails hard into my flesh in the wake of brotherly combat. “It’s okay. We’re okay.” That was all I had to offer as I walked away from the heap of his body. All his fight had gone out, at least for this moment. As I went to find my iced tea, something caught my attention outside the kitchen window. It had come just for me, in that moment, and with a message to deliver. Looking tentative and almost disheveled, the tiny gray hummingbird darted off as quickly as it had come. But it came, and with it followed a whole new kind of hope.
It’s not up to us. It’s not our plan, or even our time. For Jonah, whose name, I learned, means “dove,” a peaceful bird that frequents our feeders at the farm, the urge to flee was not enough to keep him from the path that was intended solely as his. We can’t hide from ourselves, from our own truths, and from what is in store for us. I guess we all just need a vision, a little tenacity, our fair share of spinach, and maybe some help believing that someone will be there to catch us along the way.