Posted by: alegra22 | July 30, 2011

over the rainbow

 I used to assume that if someone lashed out at me  it was because I deserved it. Motherhood has changed this in me.

Dan once asked me, “What advice would you give your daughter? Judge your situations as if she were facing them.”

It was so clear to me:

I want her to respect and feel her own worth.

I want her to know the difference between taking responsibility and being taken advantage of or abused.

This week was emotionally exhausting for me. I don’t have a pretty way of saying it. Grief rolled over me like a set of waves. Just when I surfaced from one, another event would begin to lift on the surface. One was particularly ugly. I didn’t see it coming. It rattled me around in a way that left me feeling bruised, vulnerable and exhausted. It reminded me of this lesson I’ve had to learn – that sometimes people, like waves, will come crashing down on us and it isn’t personal. It isn’t our responsibility. We didn’t deserve it. What is personal is how we choose to respond.

I wrote my friend this morning, “I’m ready to skype but I have to confess, I’ve just slathered my eyes in hemorrhoid cream. It’s been one of those mornings.”

I’d woken up with puffy eyes from crying on and off all day yesterday. I couldn’t stop. I spent the night aware of Joaquin’s hands reaching out for me, his knees in my back, an arm along my spine, the curve of his skull against mine. These small points of contact kept me bobbing on the surface of a deep sleep. I was grateful for the comfort. I was too full of love to sink.

I woke up tired, soft-edged, emptied out of my ability to feel anything more.

As we drove to visit Cezar’s grave, I gave myself permission to simply be empty. To not need to fill it up with anything.

In the backseat, Sol and Zaviera were tag-teaming me with questions:

Why is Cezar’s body in the ground?

Why do we put people’s bodies in the ground?

When do we die?

When will you die?

If God loves us, why does God let us die?

If Cezar is in heaven, who will take care of him?

Where will we put our bodies when we die?

Why do our bodies break?

Why did Cezar’s body break?

At one point Dan looked at me and said quietly, “I’m letting you handle this conversation.”

I needed my emptiness. I needed permission to feel no pain. I needed these things so I could be present for my children.

I said, “You know how we use the van to take us places but we aren’t our van? Our bodies are like our van. The part of us that loves, laughs, feels pain, learns, gets angry…that is the driver of our body, our spirit.  When our van’s transmission broke, we couldn’t use it to drive around anymore. It is the same with our bodies. If they get too broken, we can’t use them.”

“Oh,” said Sol. “So that’s when we get out of our bodies and go to heaven?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“I’m going to pray for Cezar,” Zaviera announced. “I pray that Cezar won’t be broken any more. That Cezar is happy in heaven and that he is being taken care of because I loved him. He was my friend.”

The pile of pale earth covering Cezar was covered in bright, silk flowers. A children’s toy sat in the center of the pile. It whirred, sending iridescent bubbles floating around our knees. A series of solar-powered garden lights had been planted along the edges. I imagined them glowing in the darkness. A constellation in the quiet night. A lit path.

As the adults paid their respects, Sol kept picking things up from other graves, rearranging them. I took him aside and explained that those objects were people’s prayers and they were not to be moved. He looked over my head. He looked down at the grass. Later, Dan caught him sliding several glass stones that had decorated another grave into his pocket.

As we left the burial ground we washed our hands. Sol asked me why we had to do this.

“Remember how I told you that those stones you picked up were other people’s prayers and that made them very special, something you are not meant to touch?”

He nodded.

“The places where people are buried are full of power because we come here to remember them. When we leave, we wash our hands so that we can leave our sadness behind.”

“Oh, so we don’t get their germs?”

I crouched down, splashing water on to his hands and rubbing them gently.

“Kind of. You know how we can get sick if we get germs in our body? We can also get sick in our emotions and spirit. If we have too much sadness or too much anger, it can make our spirit sick and very tired.”

Zaviera splashed water on her hands, “Yeah, that’s why you can’t take those prayers. They’ll make you sick because they’re not yours.”

She nodded as if this was just simple math.

Driving home, Sol leaned into me and said, “Mommy, my head feels funny.”

“You’re really tired, aren’t you? That was a lot to think about today.”

He nodded.

“I’m really tired too.”

We had a little talk about what we’d just been through and then I looked up. Out the window,  a rainbow touched down in the waters of the bay. Before I could say something to the children, Zaviera pointed to it. “A rainbow! Hello God!”

It surprised me when Sol didn’t argue. Instead, he waved at the rainbow and offered his own hello.

“Sol, that’s God and God has leppahchauns and they’re in the pot!” Zaviera declared. “We should meet them!”

Sol rolled his eyes, “There is no such thing as a pot at the end of the rainbow Zaviera. That’s just a story.”

“You don’t know! You don’t know everything Sol!”

They began to bicker and I drifted into thoughts about all of the ways we can be broken. I thought about my brother-in-law standing at the edge of his son’s grave. I thought of the living heat of Joaquin’s body as he nested against me through the night. I thought of the dark circles under the eyes of Cezar’s mother.

I thought of the people who lash out in ways that are incomprehensible to me, of how angry the world can seem.

And I understood: sometimes the pain that lifts up on the horizon is so unexpected, so dark, that people don’t know what to do other than struggle and fight.

Sometimes we punch and claw at whatever is nearest because it gives us a moment of power, a sense of our edges when those edges are threatening to dissolve; when the roar is pressing down, when we fear we will be pulled into a dark current to drown.

Tonight I realized that there is something more I want to say to my children when they are hurt.

I want to tell them that I’m learning that there are people with broken spirits.

I want to say,  “There are storms so powerful in a person’s life that they are hard to imagine. Some people are drowning. You can’t rescue them, you can only love them from a distance. Forgive them. Let them exhaust themselves on a distant shore. They will find peace.”

And when my children face their own storms, their own pain, I will say, “Feel the power moving beneath you. Paddle into its momentum. Jump to your feet. Discover that sometimes the thing you think might swallow you, will carry you to freedom.”

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Responses

  1. I am very stoked on this piece. Your writing is getting better and better. ‘Over the Rainbow’ reminds me that no matter how difficult and trying it is to raise kids, they give us so much insight into the world regardless of their concrete understanding of it. Also, this is a powerful piece because for me it touches on the fact that ultimately one of our most important functions in life is to nuture eachother into and out of this life.

    • Cheers Royce 🙂

  2. My sister’s daughter recently said of her uncle, who passed away in his sleep at 30 years of age without any reason, “Mommy, his arms turned into wings and he flew to heaven.” And just those simple words uplifted my sister and her husband. Their innocence and purity is the most beautiful thing about life. Reading your posts it shows what an emotional time you are going through; I am thinking of you! Hugs 🙂

    • Thank you Kim
      Yes, this last week has been a doozy of emotion. To be honest, I didn’t expect it. Sum of it snuck up on me, some of it pounced…all of it was ultimately good. I am stunned by what comes out of my children’s minds during times like this. I love ‘his arms turned into wings and he flew to heaven.’ This is so beautiful. Thank you for passing it on. xx

  3. A beautiful prose Alegra you are so gifted
    Yes I saw the rainbow and I think it was a reminder to me that Caesar is peaceful in heaven and we will meet with him one day thats for sure
    We don’t always understand but God sees the begining and the end

  4. Having spent some time with your whanau recently I can see how lucky you are to have 3 completely unique kids. It takes so much thought and patience to come up with the insightful words that you have for your kids. I have not doubt that between the both of you you will be able to handle any hairy questions the kids come up with.

    How else could someone have answered Sol?

    Just wait till all the sex questions get thrown your way next!

    All part of growing with your kids really.

    • It’s been so wonderful to have you around – feeling your absence now that you’re overseas! I try to look at the challenges we have now like a PS3 game – you pass one level and gain skills for the next level. THis way, instead of feeling broken down or like a failure when I look back and wish I could’ve handled it PERFECTLY, I see that I passed the level, gained strength, and next round, I’ll keep on growing.


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