I was out in my yard today when a wayward piece of wrapping paper blew by. It was not a pattern I recognized. Annoyance flared up at having to pick up someone else's trash. A little thing, I know, but this is one day after mysterious tire tracks appeared going straight down the length of our front yard. In the middle. Between the trees. Not anywhere near the driveway. Weird and annoying.
I started thinking about having to clean up other people's crap, and why it annoys me so much. I mean, as mothers, isn't that pretty much what we do-- move piles of stuff from one place to another, day after day, year after year? I guess it doesn't bother me as much if it's my own family's crap, you know?
For there have been many times in this journey of parenting that I've felt the residue of other people's crap linger on my family. You know-- the tough issues, the drama, the complications that we would not have to face if we just chose to live an insular life. And as I look over the strange direction our lives have taken, with Jack's death, it is easy for me to say, "If only..." If only we had kept more to ourselves-- circled the wagons so to speak-- perhaps we could have kept the awkward, the uncomfortable, and finally the tragic from entering our lives. If we hadn't opened ourselves up to others, if we hadn't given our kids a growing sense of freedom, if only, if only...
This is the point in the post where we all say, "But of course we can't raise kids in a bubble!" It's one thing to try to be the family who bucks the tide against violent video games; it's another to isolate children and keep them from interacting with others and experiencing life." You know-- We are the world, Kum ba yah, carpe diem, hakuna matata and all that stuff.
But truly, it's hard to think in those terms when I yearn for a fantasy in which the 4 of us, the dog, and maybe even the hamster run away to some ice floe in Antarctica-- completely alone, yet together, and blissfully free from the tinge of other people's crap. Of course I would be cold, and extreme changes in body temperature do not a happy Anna make. And the kids would hate us, and there would be no internet or friends and we would be ruining their lives. And Tim would want to get frisky but can he not see that I have the damn igloo to keep clean and that 24 hours straight of light or darkness or whatever messes with my libido?
The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that, in reality, our crap is all over your backyard now. You never asked to be part of this tragedy. To have to explain to your kids that, yes, children do die. Maybe your child is one of Jack's classmates, a tender 12 year old who is trying to figure out how the clever boy who entertained the classs for more than 6 years could be sitting there one day, yet gone next. That cannot be easy.
Maybe you are trying to figure out how to regain a feeling of security and safety after yours has been rocked. "If something like this happened to them, what could happen to us?" Maybe your husband, after weeks of sympathizing is saying, "It's okay to feel bad for someone, but you are taking this grief thing too far. You have your own family to worry about." Maybe we have been friends for years and you want the old Anna back, or you feel helpless in the face of such a huge loss. Maybe you found Jack annoying and don't know what to do with those feelings, or you found him delightful and don't know why your own boy keeps screwing around when at least he gets to live, damn it!
Maybe you are trying to figure out why the life and death of a child you never met, perhaps on the other side of the world, wakes you up at night, or drives you to your knees in prayer. Is this normal? How long will this last? Maybe you are having sympathy fatigue and wishing you could read something here about spray paint or dumpster diving or the annoying way Tim chews. Maybe you are feeling closer to God than ever as you see how He is comforting us through this, or perhaps you are feeling farther from Him than ever before... before our crap landed in your yard.
I may not know your individual situation, but I know that when you come here, our crap lands on you. It must. If my family had and did lead a insular, bubble-bound, existence we would not be sharing in this way, either because the accident never took place, or because our suffering would be private and polite and reach only a small circle of people.
And my wish would be to never make my friends, those I have met and have yet to meet, suffer needlessly. Yet in the suffering, the suffering together, you help carry us. You bear our burdens, you pray, you care, just as we are all asked to do. And that can be messy, and confusing, and crappy, but somehow Holy, too.