Yesterday morning I went to see my uncle, only I didn’t see my uncle. Instead there was a small man in a bed who looked far too old and gray to be the robust, ruddy-skinned man of my youth, who kept a cupboard full of candy and a mess of wild curls upon his head—curls that matched his sisters, his daughter, my dad, my brothers, me. His shoulders were bony and small and though I conjecture, don’t know the truth of difference because it occurred to me then—I had never seen him with his shirt off. But there he was, struggling to gain breath against the ribs and lungs and wires and tubes that together became a shuddering cage of mortality: a new carriage to bear, a burden.
I walked through the rest of my day doing “things”—laundry, dishescountersfloors, a bulletin board at school, a doctor’s appointment 20 minutes west and a soccer game, closer home. I let them, the kids: In’n’Out and then McDonalds, because of Happy Meals and my weakness to insist and a husband out of town anyway. When they scattered and I was alone for exactly one minute, I plugged the straws of two still-heavy milk shakes one at a time, into my mouth, and I slurped for all it was worth, chocolate and vanilla, and wanted to cry.
Bed couldn’t come soon enough and I fell asleep with my hand in the scriptures. Mark chapter 2. My body betraying a peace I felt desperate for.
This morning the baby is scantily clad, just a diaper, a shirt too small. He rolls about on the rug that looks like a road and stretches his limbs to accommodate two cars, divergent paths. I am holding a miniature school bus without wheels but looking at his torso, at a brown swath of flesh that stretches seamless along the delicate pins of his ribcage, at the beauty of his cheeks and their life-giving proof of pink, his hair a mop—alive and wayward. And my heart is full of music. Not words, but sound that language fails to describe.
“Mom, c’mon,” he says; “Mom, that’s mine,” as he plucks the school bus from my hand. “Mom, it’s a Christmas tree.” He points to a picture of a decorated pine, the middle of the rug, and I realize then that’s what it is, that’s the fullness I can’t swallow: Christmas. A Christ child, some time in Gethsemane, a cross, death. There is glory in this, and gratitude for life and the fleshy mess of this existence, of now.
Soon we will go outside, because that is how our day goes. I will lace up running shoes. I will pack a plastic parcel of cereal, two water bottles. I will balance the dog and the stroller and I will run. Mostly, I will let it be, let each step I don’t feel, let the hammering heart I scarcely notice, let it go, let my spirit overpower my body; and when the miles feel long and the sun feels hot I will tell myself this: that the pain is only for a moment, and you can do this, you can do this, you can do this.