This is my Grandpa. He died when I was 8 after a protracted battle with multiple myeloma. He used to give us horsey rides, even when the cancer had eroded all the padding between his vertebrae. I don’t think even now I can fully comprehend the magnitude of his sacrifice. And he never stopped smiling. Also, for the record I would still totally wear that outfit. And I think my little brother should also still have a bowl cut. Little kids make everything cute!
It was a rough weekend. Part of it is some normal-but-intense life stress going on. Part of it is me still being off my meds and while I keep thinking I can be “strong” and keep going without them, I’m beginning to realize that strength has very little to do with this and stupidity possibly a lot. But the worst part of all of this medication stuff is this: I can’t tell when I’m crazy. Those of you who have never been nuts probably don’t understand this but it’s really hard to see from the inside because, well, it all feels legit. You still feel your feelings, no matter where they come from. So tonight I did something that gives me some self insight when I seem to be lacking it – I read my journal. I keep an offline pen-and-paper journal (I have a thing for cute little notebooks!) but you might have also noticed a whole category of posts on here tagged as “personal essays” and these are mainly just journal entries that I post on here because, well, that’s what I do.
Anyhow, I came across this 2-year-old essay tonight and it was beautiful to be reminded of a wisdom I already have (and you have as well): the wisdom of others. Sometimes we do the carrying. And there is much pride in being strong for others. But sometimes we have to let ourselves be carried. And we should take no less pride in admitting our weakness than we do in sharing our strengths – because both come from the same place, two sides of the same coin. It isn’t, as the cliche goes, “make it or break it” but rather the things that break us are also the things that make us. If we let them.
So here’s to old wisdom, going Back To The Arms That Held Me.
Downy duck fluff burrowed into my neck, the soft sigh of newborn breath so slight that I keep one hand lightly on her back to assure it rises and falls in concordance with my own. My other arm cradles her tiny warm body in this bittersweet moment. She is not mine. A dear friend’s infant daughter, she will not remember me. But then do any of us remember the arms that first held us?
My mother carried me inside her. She was a teenage bride and then a teen mom before Teen Mom
was ever considered a fashionable title. I never appreciated the magnitude of her sacrifice until my own first child registered a nine on my Richter scale. I remember, in the midst of the earthquake that was her birth, a newly trained nurse trying to insert an IV into my hand. Despite the fact I have veins to rival Madonna’s garden hoses, she kept missing until she and I were both crying. My mother, a veteran nurse, grabbed the needle out of her hand and gently inserted the IV. Wrapping her arms around me she blocked out the sobbing nurse, the doctor’s taut face, the machines, all the bloody trauma that accompanies the birth of a baby that will never cry
. And when my daughter was finally born – still
– she wrapped her arms around her too.
My father carried me outside. He carried me out of the hospital the day I was born – and accidentally rolled me down my mother’s legs while trying to hand me to her in the car, so the story he goes. (Can you imagine a time when mothers held their babies on their laps in cars? I also remember sleeping in the “far back” on long trips with my feet out our station wagon window. Nothing says memories like safety violations!) Twenty years later, he carried me back into the hospital when I was in the throes of hysterical pain. Through that seemingly endless trial of chronic pain
, his arms held me, blessed me. And then with those same arms he gave me away.
My husband carried me over the threshold. At first it was a dirty, cracked threshold of a 500-square foot studio apartment whose only redeeming quality was the ability to vacuum the entire thing without ever having to unplug the vacuum. Later on he would wrap his arms under my pregnant belly to help carry me as I carried our babies. He even held me to his chest as I acted like a baby, sobbing on the floor because, oh I have failed
. How? I am fat, I am ugly, I am stupid, I am mean, I am nothing good
. Take that back, nobody talks that way about my wife. Even still, he insists on carrying me over each new threshold we have called our own.
Then there are the other arms that have carry me when I fall. My grammy whose rose-scented arms encircled me so tenderly in life that I feel them still, in a necessary moment, across the chasm of death. My grandfather who lifted me onto his back
, even when it was so riddled with cancer that the pain had to have been excruciating; he never even winced. The friend who lifted me from the curb
where the Very Bad Boyfriend had left me, held me while I threw up and carried me to my car. My brother who picked me up the first time I laid a motorcycle down while learning to ride it and then told me to try it again. The friend who padlocked our skirts together so that we’d never have to leave each other’s side. My sister who daily embraces me with her words rather than her arms because we’ve now lived apart longer than we ever lived together. Always the Father in Heaven who made me, who hasn’t forgotten me even when I’ve forgotten him, who held me when I read The Diary of Anne Frank and realized for the first time what atrocities we humans are capable of. And the many many anonymous arms that have lifted me along the way, the ones I don’t remember save for the echo of their touch that rests like a hand lightly on my back, making sure that my chest rises and falls in concordance with theirs.
These days, it is mostly my arms that do the holding – tears, slights, tantrums, embarrassments, ear infections and fevers, nightmares – but when the burden of being the comforter gets too heavy and my arms start to fall, I return to the arms that held me. When they talk about the circle of life I never knew the whole of it could be enclosed in an embrace.
Whose arms do you return to? Even if you don’t post it in the comments (although I’d love it if you do!), please take a moment and remember one really meaningful embrace in your life. Any of you journal keepers too? How has it helped you see yourself differently?
P.S. This is totally going to ruin the zen of what I hope is a beautiful essay but I found this pic when I googled “beautiful hug” and it is just too awesome not to share. You want this, admit it: