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.”