Sometime after Thanksgiving dinner, tired from eating and laughing, we all drifted into tryptophan-spiked naps. One daughter was warm on my left side, the other pillowed on my right, with Doug stretched out at our feet.
Imagine your lapcat and multiply by a factor of seven, or maybe seven and two-thirds, a number not easily calculated.
I was sleepy too, but when all the breathing became rhythmic, I became strangely alert. My eyes stayed closed, but my hearing sharpened. I fancied I could hear the life in their bodies — hearts beating, lungs swooshing, dinners digesting — and I strained to hear all this more minutely, like a grateful audience listens to a fine orchestra.
The prayer that went up from me had none of the usual maternal worry or pride, not one thought for my daughters’ accomplishments, or plans, or beauty, no concern for any product that might emanate from their lives. I felt the way I did when they were newborn, when their faces were unwritten and unspeakably precious, when I was simply in awe of them and the fact that I was their mother.
Dreamlike, I remembered an exhibit I’ve seen at Dickson Mounds, which describes the belief system of the ancient tribe of Native Americans that we call Mississippians. The exhibit said: Life is sacred.
That part was easy to hear, and so true. But it also said: Corn is sacred because it keeps life in the body. I remember how that jolted me at the moment, how it expanded my thinking. Anything that keeps life in the body is sacred.
With my eyes still shut, I could feel how their sacred lives filled the room. Steadily beating hearts, expanding and contracting lungs, healthy brains with firing synapses. I thought of all the times they have been in harm’s way this past year — hours driving in cars for instance, nothing more ordinary or more terrifying than that, any moment when everything might have changed, but didn’t — and their ordinary beating lives seemed stupendous to me, an occasion for incredulity at God’s goodness in letting me have them still. Still. Still this very moment. This very beating moment.
As soon as all of this became articulated into prayer, the usual petitions banged up against my wordless gratitude — help me be a better parent, Lord, give me wisdom, show me! –but my daughters stirred from their naps to save me from myself.
What next? Chocolate, of course.