When the hours burn up in front of my eyes like newspapers on fire, when I go from nursing, to scrubbing poop off the infant swing, to picking up little pieces of shredded paper, to filling up a sippy cup, to reorganizing my storage systems, to scheduling when I'm going to blend up the humus for tonight's dinner, I look back fondly on the days when I could choose whom I wished to serve and when I would serve them. Those days when I could listen to the refrigerator humming and the planes outside powering down, when jumping in the car and running to the grocery store to pick up a dozen eggs was a quick and simple task, when all my time was MINE and all my body parts were MINE and all my thoughts were MINE MINE MINE!
So I tell myself, it’s just a phase. Soon the children will be able to do these things on their own. One day they’ll be able to take care of themselves. One day they’ll move out, and Phil and I will be able to travel, have decadent meals to the sound of our own voices, install double-paned windows and A.C. It’ll come to pass.
But then I see my mom accepting more and more responsibilities as she cares for her parents and her mother-in-law. I see her days often occupied with doctor’s appointments. I see her handwriting on a sign on my grandpa’s desk, “Correo de semana.” She’s helping to keep him organized like she did with us when we were children. She made signs like that for our dressers: shirts, pants, underwear, socks etc. She taped them to the fronts our drawers.
Once my mom was where I am now, caring full time for little people. Giving all her energy and thoughts to the raising of us children. Now she is doing it again, on the other end. She has passed beyond the stage that I long for.
My aunt, Terri, too. I hear of the little lists my grandma gives her, of the Sunday trips to Trader Joe’s for groceries, of the new reverse osmosis spigot in Terri’s house so that water is more easily acquired.
I watch it happening on both sides.
Phil’s grandpa, Jerry, is now living under Kirk and Gretchen’s full time care. I see Gretchen serving Jerry in all capacities. She wonders about the vacations that she has planned and longs to go to church with her husband again.
And that generation—George and Grace Latapie, Jerry Stevens, Mary Taylor, Barbara and Robert Seelye—they too are losing their freedoms: the freedom to move about unhindered, the freedom to drive, the freedom to be alone, to shop, to write checks, get a hair cut, and bathe oneself. They’re coming to the end of this mortal life, and it seems that God demands we leave with our hands unhinged from these freedoms.
Oh God, is this what awaits me? Shall I go from one stage of lost freedoms to the next until I lose the capacity to serve anyone and I myself must have others serve me as if I were a child?
Then this selfless state of motherhood is not just a phase. It is life. Those stages of no responsibilities, of being able to do what I want when I want, serving only when it’s convenient or easy or agreeable with my spiritual gifts . . . that's not the ideal life at all. Those so called easy times are merely breaths in between the panting, the blood flowing out of the heart before it flows back in, the drawing back of the hammer as it raises to strike the hot metal again. What a job! What a work!
How then shall I live if this striking of my soul is the work of my life? It is the whole of life and not a stage to just get through so that I can enjoy myself with no one in my care. How might I better bend to the potter’s hands or allow this constant cleaning, caring, washing, listening, and feeding penetrate through to the heart of me and make me clean within?
Dear God, have mercy on me. This is the part of the show where your Holy Spirit must come in and leaven this bread so it will rise. Otherwise I will be a deflated, self-seeking, lump of soul at the end of all things.
May our hearts turn gold as our bodies grow cold.