“I don’t want to grow up”

My child has no interest in being an adult, which makes me wonder what she hears her dad and me saying. Then it makes perfect sense.

Debt. Black mold. Mortgage. Death. Weight. Loans. Responsibility. Health. Dentists. Voting. Jobs. Work. The economy. Guns. Colonoscopy.

So, yes, if that’s all I ever heard, I probably wouldn’t want to grow up either.

When I was in junior high my older brother and sister were in high school and were being pretty typical teenagers. I said to my mother one day, ” I will never be like them.”  And I wasn’t.  I was much much worse.

Because what my daughter doesn’t  know, and what my junior high self did not know, was that there are these things called hormones which kick in and for a little while take over your life. You learn to manage them – eventually – and by the mid-twenties the frontal lobe finally develops and things begin to calm down. Then before you know it you’re 51 and tired and there’s black mold in the basement and your kid doesn’t want to be an adult.

But in just a few years she’ll start to think boys are kind of interesting (or maybe girls, just to be fair.) She will want to drive the car and have more independence than her bicycle currently affords. She will want to go away to college as far away from us as possible, in South Africa maybe, or the Arctic Circle.

For some (but not all) there is this little golden time when you get your first taste of independence before responsibility sets in. For me, it was at the end of high school and the beginning of college, when my biggest worries were exams and which Icelandic sweater pattern I should start next.

Job interviews were a wake-up call, as was getting fired from my third job. Going to everyone else’s wedding without having one of my own introduced me to the loneliness sneaks up in adulthood. Also, buying my first vacuum cleaner: a sure sign that I was truly on my own.

I pray my daughter will grow up and live every moment between now and then, the good, the bad, and the pimply.  Because as an adult I have learned that life is to be lived, not rehearsed or perfected.

The Wound in His Shoulder

“It is related in the annals of Clairvaux that St. Bernard asked our Lord which was His greatest
unrecorded suffering, and Our Lord answered, ‘I had on My Shoulder, which I bore My Cross
on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound, which was more painful than the others,
and which is not recorded by men.  Honor this wound with thy devotion….'”

I have been thinking about the wounds people carry, those unbearable weights that take their toll on our bodies and hearts.  I think of the old but not elderly woman who complained for months to her doctor about a cough, and when he finally got around to taking her seriously, discovered that cancer had taken over.  She was told she has only weeks to live. It is a wound of not having been taken seriously, as if facing death were not wound enough.

I think of the acquaintance whose young nephew has leukemia, his wearing those large, dark-ringed eyes and bald head of children living with chemo and cancer, her bearing worry and hope at the same time, the soul-vertigo that causes.

I think of that parent in Nigeria, those last shards of hope disintegrating, living in fear of Boko Haram and knowing that rage will only cause more trouble.

I think about the invisible responsibilities people choose to bear – the responsibility of caring for a brother who is mentally ill and a hoarder, who could at any moment be thrown out into the streets.  The young mom, a professional in a high-profile position, diagnosed with breast cancer and having to be the gracious face of positivism and faith when maybe, inside, there is terror and an absence of God.  The many who have put their hope and trust in the church only to have that trust broken in ways they believe can never, ever be mended.

People carry so much.  It takes a toll.

There’s the other weight, too – the weight of not being able to do one damn thing about the suffering.  It’s a secondary weight that is as heavy as the primary one, maybe: the weight of being left behind, alone; the weight of being powerless, the weight of not having stopped some part of the tear in the fabric of the world.

Our Roman Catholic friends have a novena about the shoulder wound of Christ – the wound caused by the weight of the cross he was forced to carry.  My shoulders ache at the thought of that.

It’s where our tension finds a home – the shoulders, the neck, the hardening of the occipital ridge.  It’s the pinch between the shoulder blades where those invisible weights claw dully at us, reminding us of our responsibility, of our need to carry some of this, of our need to own some of this.

Where is the relief?  Surely letting go of the burden lessens it some, but there is perpetual tension in those muscles.  Massage, heat, stretching, meditation: a relief, yes.  But a cure?

Perhaps we are never truly unburdened, at least not on this side of the grave.

jesus carry cross

The Unknown Owl

eastern-screech-owl-georgia_67926_990x742This past summer while on vacation, my husband and I took a walk in the woods with our dog. I’ve walked this particular path hundreds of times – the woods are on property my extended family has owned since the 1940’s.

Anway, it was dusk and we wanted to take the puppy out for his evening constitutional. The sun had mostly set; it had been a clear day and it promised to be a beautiful evening. As we entered the woods we heard an owl, and as we walked deeper into the darkness, we heard the owl (or what we presumed to be the owl) following us.

I love owls, and I give J. K. Rowling a good bit of credit for that. I also love them because I think they are beautiful, and they eat mice and insects and make a pretty sound. But for some reason, this owl spooked me a bit. I don’t find the woods scary, and I wasn’t alone, and I love owls, but something was amiss.

It was the puppy. At the time the dog weighed about six pounds. He’s a little thing and always will be. And this owl was following us, and I didn’t know if it was just being friendly or if the puppy appeared to be a tasty morsel.

Now I know most owls avoid puppies for dinner. Or I think I know that. Just writing that I worried that the owl would eat my dog makes me realize how ridiculous the thought was – in lawsa bit like that scene from the original movie The In-Laws, where Peter Falk as the maybe mentally imbalanced CIA agents tells Alan Arkin as the hyper normal dentist about the time the giant tsetse flies flew away with the babies from the village.

Still, my husband and I turned around, and I carried the puppy, and we left those woods.

What made it amiss was the realization that I was responsible for a vulnerable creature. Our dog was with us, and we needed to protect it from whatever real predators were out there. The problem is that I don’t know if the predator was real or imaginary.

Everyday people have to decide how to protect the vulnerable from predators imaginary or real. We’re doing it right now with Syria; we do it as we think about how to spend taxpayers’ money in aid programs; we do it as we clarify rights for the mentally and physically disabled. We do it with our kids and with our elderly and with those who look so normal and fine who a few of us know are really in anguish.

The threat of the owl seemed so real; the vulnerability of my puppy was so real. And there I was, at the end of dusk, trying to see what to do.