When I reflect on my life, I’m amazed. Amazed about a couple of things: that I am an independent person; that I have, despite the odds, made good; that McDonald’s has the audacity to continue to operate; and that 25 years of shaving your legs is exhausting. But the thing that stands out, that amazes me beyond anything else is, that I’m alive.
When I look back, frankly, I’m shocked. They say cats have 9 lives. If people have anywhere near that amount, I’m nearing my inevitable end. There was the time, when I was 5, that I was hit by a car and spent weeks in the hospital. The time, when I was 8, I was climbing trees with my brothers and slipped from the branch and dangled, probably, 30 feet above the ground, with my brothers crying, yelling at me to pull myself up, and terrified I would fall. The time, as I was traveling alone around Europe, that I was pulled into the bushes by a very horny, intent Greek man. The time I stood on a street saying goodbye to a young man I was particularly smitten with, when a bus turned the corner and nearly ran me down. The time I nearly bled to death on the delivery room table after one of my sons was born.
I look back at these, and other times when my life was in question, with a little awe and the calmness of having lived and survived. But it also makes me aware that death, Death, is imminent. It’s my constant companion. It stalks me like a shadow. But whatever. I can deal with it. I’ve brushed the edge.
So how is it that I am paralyzed with fear that one of my kids will die. I know the routine. Born, grow, procreate, die. It’s pretty simple. I just can’t wrap my head around it when I think about my kids. Not only are they going to die, they could die any time. Today, while I’m typing. Tomorrow, when I’m holding their hands. It scares me to a depth I didn’t know I had (and I’m not talking intellectual depth here either). This fear is a bottomless pit.
I struggle to understand how to let them go to live their lives when I feel like I need to wrap them up tight and hide them. I have to protect them. I have to absorb the sometimes terrible shock of life. But, can I? Should I? Is it my right to do so? To live is to risk death. I know it myself.
How can they live if they can’t die?
They can’t. I know that. Intellectually I know that each one of my children will test death. And someday, maybe today, they will die. It will come sometime, though not a time of my choosing. I have to learn to understand that. I have to learn to take whatever I’m given, and learn to allow others, even my children, to have and own what they’re given. I think, for me, it’s the hardest lesson of parenting. It requires a faith I’m not sure I have.
“Have faith in God.”
“Have faith in justice.”
“Have faith in the Tao.”
“Have faith, everything will be alright.”
It’s impossibly hard for me to have faith. I’m frightened to my marrow that I’ll lose one of my children. So every day I test my faith. Every day I inch toward trust. Every day my heart constricts, yet every day I open the door, and out they go. Into an uncertain world, and a more uncertain future. Do they deserve any less?
So I sit and write and think and silently pray to who ever will listen–God, Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, Krishna, Mary Poppins–my silent mantra and inner dialogue, “I’m going to die. I’m going to die. So are my children. So I must let them live.”
Yet, my faith is weak, and still, I’m scared.
W.H. Auden said, “To choose what is difficult all one’s days, as if it were easy, that is faith.”
I think he must have understood parenting.