Darkness and Light

My mom sent a photo. It’s hard even to think of my parents as senior citizens, though I am nearly one myself. The image shows participants in a charity race on a bright day, and front and center are my dad and my mom, both reflecting the sun, smiling and looking well…astoundingly so. They are eighty.

I do worry about my aging parents, far away from me. For them, I hold the thought that theirs will be a long, fulfilling sunset to their lives, already well-lived. Their richest blessings are one another, and of that they are keenly aware.

My older children are forging paths into their own trees, mountains, and skies. Their fleeting journeys here with me have evolved to include other pursuits, and I am here, hoping that they know what they stand for, and how deeply they are loved.

Those still at home are my reasons to be here, too, right now, when the days, arduous as often they are, turn quickly to years.

Aaron is sick. From his earliest days, he was the one to get pneumonia when the others had a sniffle. Still, at nearly ten, he seems to be hit hardest by these seasonal bugs. A sore throat, fever, and chills (“shimmers”, as he calls them) kept him (and me) from the last game of his fall baseball season, where his team played for the championship. I can hear him now, breathing erratically and talking about dragons, as he has fallen into a restless sleep.

I worry that I will not be enough for all of these people to whom I have been entrusted as messenger. On the days where I fall short of keeping up, where even the thought of tearing down the mountain of legos or moving the discarded socks and sweatshirts to the laundry basket overwhelms me, it is then that I try to remind myself that it’s just a day, one day, and that I will have a chance again tomorrow.

I worry that we will die before we are done living, but I suppose that most people do.

It seemed a grand idea, to offer newborn chicks to my broody hen, in order to satisfy her mothering instincts and free her from months of occupying an empty nest. It shouldn’t matter that the nighttime temperatures were near freezing. Chicken Bernadette would keep her new babies safe and warm. We wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with the risk of having more roosters. These were rare breed female chicks, shipped to the local post office directly from my favorite hatchery.

Aaron had a break in his fever when the call came; within half an hour, we were in the coop, opening the box and introducing the babies to their new family. Maybe it was just a little reminiscent of the days when I would hurry to the DCFS office to be entrusted with a tiny someone, for whatever reason, for however long.

One of the babies did not look well. She was cold and barely responsive. We put her in the nest along with the other babies, and we hoped for the best through the darkness.

It was a wakeful night. When I opened the coop at sunrise, Bernadette was still perched proudly on the nest. Two hours later, three of the babies were dead.

Aaron’s fever would break and rise, more rhythmic than his breathing. Every chance I had, I checked the coop. The last little chick’s peep sounds reassured me that all was not lost; mother hen Bernadette was tending to her baby.

At dusk, when I went to close the doors and to see that all of the chickens were tucked in for the night, I came upon the baby chick, who lay motionless outside the coop entrance. Bernadette was roosting with some of the other birds. Did she leave her baby out in the cold to die? Did I?

There’s heartbreak in chicken keeping.

There’s heartbreak in parenting.

There’s heartbreak in living.

It’s okay. It’s okay, even when it’s not, because when it’s not, we are probably not thinking of it.

As parents, we try. Sometimes we aren’t enough. Sometimes we can’t be.

I don’t know if I will sleep any better tonight. Aaron is restless, and his fever seems relentless. He is so hot and so cold at the same time. Soon, though, it will be spring again, and he will lace his cleats before heading to the field. There will be new baby chicks at the farm: rare breeds, from the hatchery, but also, perhaps, a feisty young rooster that hatched from a broody hen, if that’s what was meant to be.

My big kids will have new plans.

My parents will see more sunrises and sunsets, together.

I will know that the day holds, maybe not the best or easiest lesson, but the right lesson, for me, for this day.

So Was That It?

 

Lush green foliage exploded up the century-old corn crib which had been transformed in recent years to a hobby farmer’s fancy. The lace white blooms of the Sweet Autumn clematis were a few weeks from showing, but the vine was rich and full. It would, we thought collectively, make the perfect backdrop for next summer’s wedding.

At the end of last summer, when Sam and Emily walked the property and decided to have their wedding at the farm, the vines were as strong and breathtaking as the promise of young love.

The rhythm of the year continued.

As we marched through the snow and braced ourselves against the winds and record-breaking temperatures, we made plans, sketched our thoughts and wrote down our dreams, washed the barn, collected things, and waited…how we waited…for the long, cold winter to leave us alone in favor of what we longed for.

Somewhere, a whole season was lost. The rains came down even as the preparations continued; the time-thief assured us that the wedding day was approaching. Clad in muck boots and with steps sluggish from the weeks of excessive rainfall, I visited the corn crib daily. Just a month out from the farm’s grandest event, the only evidence of my Sweet Autumn clematis was manifest in a few sorry shoots trying furiously to stretch forth from the flagstone at the base of the metal grid walls. Maybe soon, maybe tomorrow.

As I cry out for all the things I can’t change, just to try to make myself feel better, my tears are peppered with thoughts that are too heavy for my soul.

The sleepy perennials struggled to look respectable, but the calendar turned and the time was near.

Through the mist and clouds, a gathering of hands arrived to transform the barn and grounds with sparkly lights, tiny flower vases, hand-chalked signs, and countless other touches to add to the glory of the day. Emily had used avocado seeds to dye cheesecloth a sunset pink, and her friends gathered branches from the yard and tied these into the cloth to make my vineless corn crib simply beautiful for the occasion.

As I turned, I believe I saw the sun.

It was a miraculous, magical afternoon and evening where high school sweethearts became man and wife, and where childhood turned a memory to many more.

The evening following the wedding, Moses was getting undressed before his bath. Family members were still in town, but the party was clearly over. I was pouring lavender bubbles into the water when I heard his small voice: “So was that it? For the wedding?”

Yes, dear one. That was it, for the wedding. That was it, for the Sweet Autumn clematis. And that was it, for your big brother’s time as a child on this earth.

That was it for the wedding. It’s just the beginning, though, of what’s to come. At the threshold of this new life, a new love, the beginning of relationships, with glasses raised, hands together, we celebrate what we have been, who we are, and where we will one day be. There will be more sorrow, grief, unthinkable hard days, loneliness, rain, laughter, belonging, joy, celebration, and sun.

I can’t remember if I made an audible response to my little son’s question. He, though, seemed to have moved on to selecting plastic boats from the bathtub toy basket.

So that was it, for the wedding. That was not it for the adventurous supply of spirits for the anticipated day or for the tissue paper flowers handmade by a sweet sister which still hang elegantly from a sycamore branch in the barn. That was not it for occasions to celebrate at the farm. And that was not it, I hope, for the Sweet Autumn clematis, though the splendor of its bloom could not have made for a brighter day.

I love you, Sam and Emily.

“Tomorrow will always come, and tomorrow may well bring the sun.”

–Ben Howard, “Three Tree Town”

If you find meaning in my writing, kindly share. My second book, “Ode to a Boy”, is now available at http://www.lulu.com.