the greatest of these is love

We celebrated Matt’s 40th birthday on Saturday.  I planned an elaborate dinner party for twelve, which was nearly the end of me.  My mother is a gourmet cook with a clean, innate skill.  The kitchen is her natural habitat.  She never flounders or flaps about or turns uselessly in circles the way I found myself spinning, chicken-without-a-head style, several times during the preparations of the last few days.

Uncharacteristically, I’ve been planning for months.  I collected little stories and memories from Matt’s friends and family.  Matt’s mom and close friends sent me childhood pictures and I dug through our old high school boxes for an entire afternoon.  I mounted each little treasure of memory onto scrapbook paper and hung it from a ribbon attached to a helium balloon so that they all floated over the dining room table on the night of the party.

Despite intense stress over shrimp, a last minute sitter cancellation, and a few tears, the party was a huge success.  There was plenty of wine and dinner was very late – two excellent strategies for glossing over simple fare.  We sat around the table and talked and laughed with the incredible friends we’ve made in this city we call home, while the thoughts and love of all of the friends who have made other places home hovered over us.

The juxtaposition with the very different Saturday of twenty-six families on the other side of the country burned in the back of our throats.  I watched the news all morning on Friday and cried.  I don’t know if I’ve ever cried before during news coverage, not like that.  I didn’t during the 9/11 coverage, though I watched in stunned horror. Maybe it was because it was too big, without the horrific familiar intimacy of an elementary school. A Kindergarten class.  Maybe it was because I couldn’t quite picture myself walking into soaring highrises in New York City the way I could picture driving a few blocks over to our sweet school and walking into a class with fourteen little coats hanging on hooks two hours later.

Or maybe it’s because I wasn’t yet a parent in 2001.

I have never felt so humbled by the simple act of picking up my children. My Kindergartner and my two first graders.  I have never felt so intimately the grainy texture of time between my fingers or tasted so sharply the acrid vulnerability of having them out in a world where such madness exists.  Guilt’s stinging lash hit my shoulders in the next heartbeat.  One out of every eight children under the age of five dies in Haiti, many from diarrhea.  How many Kindergarten classes is that? I wept openly many times this weekend for the children of Newtown, and on the average day, though a piece of my heart is Haitian, in all honesty, I give the children of Haiti barely a thought.

Maybe it’s inappropriate to voice my twisted, conflicted thoughts, but trauma touches us and we run down the little rat mazes in our minds in our own way.  I’m watching the snow and the white twinkle lights on the porch next door, sending all my meager prayers and hope to Connecticut and still thinking these complicated things.

On Saturday, I laughed and cried.  I cried over shrimp and I cried over slaughtered children. I held my husband’s hand.  I poured wine.  We told stories.

I didn’t struggle with what to tell my children.  I don’t fear to send them to school, either for what might happen or for what they might hear.

The world isn’t a safe place, but it’s so full of love. Life is so very fragile, but it’s so very resilient.  If I tremble at the madman around the corner, I’ll only guarantee a train wreck of a sort I never saw approaching.

Where can I take you from here?  Have you already given me up for heartless?  If not, travel back seven weeks with me.  Slip between the clean sheets of our huge farmhouse bed in the dark.  Matt’s arms are around me. I can feel his pulse against my side.  I can hear our children breathing and the dog turning circles on the couch downstairs.  My nose is cold and I press it into his chest.  “What do you want for your fortieth birthday?”  I ask him.

“I want to marry you again.”

“Knowing everything?”  My own small grief was still so fresh.

“Because of everything.”

34 Responses to the greatest of these is love
  1. Gayle
    December 17, 2012 | 8:39 am

    Whatever Brownie points are left Matt gets them all. Wow. What beautiful words to you.

    • Anymommy
      December 17, 2012 | 5:30 pm

      He’s a man of few words, but he gets to the heart of it. xo.

  2. Kathryn
    December 17, 2012 | 12:22 pm

    Life, it’s good and its horrific, moves on…I weep for the slain babies and teachers, but then celebrate a Christmas concert for preschoolers. It is a dichotomy I struggle with. I am a teacher and a mother of children so close in age to those taken from their families…all I can do is hold them close and pray for their safety.

    You aren’t heartless, there is just so much to be sad about in this world that it’s overwhelming. Sometimes you just have to soldier on and enjoy the things life offers you – including the celebration of wonderful husbands!

    • Anymommy
      December 17, 2012 | 5:31 pm

      I know pain and joy are always coexisting, but this one hit so hard, didn’t it?

  3. Korinthia Klein
    December 17, 2012 | 12:55 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My husband and I went together to pick our kids up from school on Friday, and you’re right, that simple act never felt more powerful.

  4. Candice@NotesFromABroad
    December 17, 2012 | 1:09 pm

    You and Matt both deserve perfect parties full of love and your babies and all that is good.
    We all do but right now, we will just talk about you :)

    Happy Birthday to your Matt ..

    • Anymommy
      December 17, 2012 | 5:32 pm

      We all do. We can talk about that too!

  5. anna see
    December 17, 2012 | 2:42 pm

    Happy Birthday to Matt!

    I agree that living in fear doesn’t really work. It is what you don’t fear or expect or account for that will be THE THING, you know?

    Love and Hugs.

    • Anymommy
      December 17, 2012 | 5:32 pm

      I do know. I love you, Anna.

  6. Colleen
    December 17, 2012 | 4:35 pm

    Knowing everying?
    Because of everything.

    And that is what brought me to tears. I’ve been pushed to the edge so many times over the weekend – the tragedy in Connecticut, a Christmas party that led to tears, the darn dog won’t stop eating ornaments – but reading those beautiful words between a wife and her husband? Wow.

    He’s a keeper.

    • Anymommy
      December 17, 2012 | 5:33 pm

      That’s where the meaning of life lies, don’t you think? In the small moments between us all.

  7. Liz Botts
    December 17, 2012 | 4:46 pm

    I don’t normally say things like this in response to blog posts, but you brought tears to my eyes.

  8. Issa
    December 17, 2012 | 5:40 pm

    Good lord friend. I am sobbing with the last part of this. So beautiful and touching. Truly.

    I am full of fear this morning. Maybe that is just my way. My kids are at school and daycare despite it. I’ll be honest, I am still not over 9/11, however I was five months pregnant wondering what kind of world I was bringing my baby into. Shrug.

    You are right though, this world is filled with love. That, in the end, is what truly matters.

    • Anymommy
      December 17, 2012 | 7:24 pm

      Fear is so human. xo. Love you.

      • Issa
        December 17, 2012 | 7:42 pm

        For the first time every, your comment to my comment emailed itself to me. How cool!

        Fear is sucky. I just try to not let it take over. Which is why we’ll be watching holiday movies all week instead of actual TV. Avoidance.

  9. Lyndsay
    December 17, 2012 | 6:36 pm

    I feel the same way about this tragedy compared to 9/11.
    My reaction to 9/11 was shock and disbelief. It seemed to big to comprehend. But 7 year olds? I’ve got one of those. And I bet she started her Friday exactly like those sweet babies did. And there’s absolutely no reason why those other 7-years olds weren’t able to decorate gingerbread with their families this weekend like we did.
    It’s those little details that are bringing me to my knees over and over and over…

    • Anymommy
      December 17, 2012 | 7:23 pm

      The senselessness of it is crushing.

  10. Mama D
    December 17, 2012 | 7:09 pm

    Love keeps us sane amidst the evil and tragedy and sadness that life brings. So glad that you have a love like that to sustain you.

  11. Donna L
    December 17, 2012 | 9:20 pm

    In a world where great and terrible tragedy exists, it is not only good to remember that the world is also filled with love; it is vital.

  12. melanie
    December 17, 2012 | 9:54 pm

    Happy Birthday to Matt. The greatest of these IS love. I am not yet at peace with all of this. I did worry over what to tell my kids, my own children and my students. I struggle because I know there is pain and horror in life, but I am trying to tamp it down with love. Thank you for your words.

  13. Ann
    December 18, 2012 | 1:17 am

    I love your honesty. I love the relationship you and Matt have. I always value your perspective.

    What a beautiful act of love that party was. Wow.

  14. Peggy
    December 18, 2012 | 2:53 am

    I agree with your comparison to 9/11. It was too much to wrap my head around. But I have first, third and fifth graders who are in a small elementary school that I visit frequently. I know that the school does as much for their safety as possible. And I know that a madman with a gun trumps all of that. But I don’t live in fear either. You can’t because, if you do, this madman — and the other — have won. There is bad everywhere in the world. We need to be smart, but not so protective that we do not really live because, like you say, there is love — oh so much love, and you have to be able to live to experience it.

    All of that being said, we need to figure out a way to prevent — and that involves really hard conversations about mental illness and gun control. But it’s time. We should not live in fear, but we should not be the ostrich either.

    I did talk to my kids about it. My 7 year old first grader asked about it after hearing about it at gymnastics. I could bring myself to give her an age appropriate response. But I could not bring myself to tell her the ages of the victims. It just stuck in my throat.

  15. fadkog
    December 18, 2012 | 3:46 am

    Like you, this was the first truly shocking event that moved me to tears. Still is. Even though I sat, hugely pregnant with my youngest son, and watched the events of 9/11, I didn’t cry about that until later because it seemed so vast. When I did cry, it was out of fear for the world I’d be bringing said son into based on where our world was going following the event. Today, I simply had to turn the television off tonight because I couldn’t bear to see those beautiful children on my screen again. My heart aches for their families.

    I just keep thinking of their families…and on that, what a truly great gift of family you have made with Matt. I don’t know what you might respond with if asked what you want for your own birthday, but to hear the one you’ve given your life to say his words to you? I’d wrap that up in imaginary ribbons and tuck it away in my heart forever.

  16. Connie
    December 18, 2012 | 3:59 am

    OMG You just made me gasp!

    This is so right
    “I want to marry you again.”

    “Knowing everything?” My own small grief was still so fresh.

    “Because of everything.”

  17. Stephanie Precourt
    December 18, 2012 | 1:26 pm

    I almost tried to write out something so similar. I think for me, back in 2001 with 9/11 I did have a baby but I wasn’t going to walk into a big tall building in Chicago after all that happened and thank goodness I didn’t have to. But here just a couple days after Sandy Hook I did have to send my kids on buses to elementary school, I walked my daughter right into a school. It feels like we’ve been stripped of something, we can see what we were too innocent of before. I hate it. I walked Ivy in and was okay until I saw the teachers’ faces in the hall and how they looked me in the eyes. We didn’t have to say anything, it’s already been done.

    Steph

  18. Lady Jennie
    December 18, 2012 | 3:00 pm

    I am surprisingly dry-eyed and speechless in a way I wasn’t with 9/11 (we were in Africa, but our home and friends was in NYC) and in a way I wasn’t with Anna’s loss (I grew to know her and her personal grief). I think part of it is no news coverage apart from a radio program the morning after (we don’t watch tv).

    I don’t think you’re heartless. Our hearts process what we can, and even though we grieve when we grieve and abhor tragedy, we still must go on.

  19. deb
    December 18, 2012 | 4:20 pm

    i was standing in front of a classroom of stunned college students when the news came in about 9/11. I didn’t cry because i had to calm them. then i had to call my husband to be sure he never got on his 10am flight from d.c. to california. we picked our son up from preschool and sat at home in stunned silence – so so so grateful my husband had decided against the 8am flight that flew into the pentagon that morning. i never cried–i had a 4 year old who didn’t know what had happened. so i stared at a lot of walls while acting “normal” instead. on friday, i was alone in my house where i could indulge in the stress relieving luxury of sobbing. i took full advantage.

    i think this is a beautiful post about something so difficult. “little rat mazes in our minds” is such an excellent way of putting it. you’ve hit the nail on the head. our minds will protect us from trauma until trauma comes so close that it can’t. it doesn’t mean we don’t care about the more distant things; it just means we can only hold so much.

  20. Ellen
    December 18, 2012 | 10:03 pm

    Beautifully written.
    I dropped my youngest at his elementary school on Monday and he got out of the car saying “I love you Momma” and the tears came out of nowhere. So much to say and yet I find myself in stunned silence.

  21. Kaycee
    December 26, 2012 | 9:31 pm

    I have cried. Lot over this news coverage. And I haven’t even been able to make myself watch that much of it. I have cried just discussing it with my Mom, my friends, or just thinking about those little ones and what they went through. I thought i was cried out. But the end of your post? Made me cry too. But I will say thank you for that. I needed to cry over something beautiful instead.

    • anymommy
      December 27, 2012 | 5:58 am

      Yes, I so agree. Beautiful tears are such healing tears. Thanks for telling me that you found that here.

  22. The Beaver Bunch
    December 31, 2012 | 4:20 am

    I love that Matt loves you so fiercely. There’s something so beautiful about a man loving a woman so tenderly, yet with such strength and force.

  23. Galit Breen
    January 8, 2013 | 9:30 pm

    I’m catching up with your HeartWords. The ones on this page left me teary.

    I cried unabashedly that weekend, too.

    Happy birthday to Matt, what a wonderful love you’re woven within.

    xo

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