My entire existence has funneled into my right ear, which is still broken. My entire existence is a constant buzz of white noise, a muffled void. My entire existence is the sound of pressing your ear to a seashell to hear the ocean and it goes on and on and on. My entire existence is the sand behind my eyelids, the dry sound of blinking. My entire existence is the cramp near my right shoulder blade. My entire existence is in my bed, pillows punched and sheets rumpled by an onslaught of dreams and strange images, of a kid who couldn't sleep until she was furrowed into the circle of my arms. My entire existence is 4:30 a.m., blinking into the darkness, wondering if I should just give up on the idea of sleep altogether, two of the three most beloved people in my life snoring peacefully in the bed, taking up the whole space.
I listen to this song over and over again, non-stop, and this is no exaggeration. I am struck by the intimacy of these three men shoulder to shoulder, making something together that sounds so lovely. I'm not musically inclined at all -- never played an instrument or sung in a choir -- and I wonder how it feels to bring three voices together in such a way, a seamless blend of sound, a perfect piece of it. That kind of connection has to be amazing, doesn't it? To join together that way? Having no real insight into the process of making music, I can only guess, but it seems like you would be tied together in a different way, a deeper way, to sing together like that. To sing like that would be to share a little bit of your soul with someone else. And to lift each other up to something higher, better. To elevate the ordinary -- a quiet, small room -- into something extraordinary: music, its basic elements. Voice and instrument and people who care enough to put it all together.
I think we all chase that feeling in some way, don't we? And if not, shouldn't we?
A few days ago Mad was standing on her step stool, brushing her teeth, and I was leaning in the doorway, keeping her company. She reached out and kicked at me. Her foot made contact with my outstretched leg, but there was no force behind it. For a split second a think it's an act of aggression, but instead of reacting that way, I reach out and push back at her with my foot, gently, and I am rewarded when her whole face lights up. She does it back, immediately, delighted. She's instigated a game. That's all she wanted. A connection. This is a parenting victory, for now, and I relish it.
Later Mad wants to play it again and Violet decides to get in on it. We are sitting on Mad's bad and we are play-kicking each other, and then Violet jumps in. She lifts her foot and before I can react, she slams her foot into my face, knocking my glasses to the floor and leaving a red splotch on my cheek.
This was not an act of aggression, this is Violet not understanding the rules of the game and not really caring one way or the other where her foot lands when she kicks it out. And with my hand over my face I exclaim, "VIOLET. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?" and she immediately starts sobbing, tears pouring down her face. She launches herself at me, her face a wall of misery. "I didn't know I didn't know I'm so sorry," she cries over and over, and I am at a loss. She knows not to kick someone in the face. Doesn't she? I don't know.
She cries to avoid confrontation, I think.
I don't know. I collect my glasses and calm myself down and tell her she does know not to kick someone in the face and that it isn't okay and she just sobs and sobs and sobs.
This is a parenting fail, I think, but I don't know what else to do.
My entire existence is the darkness at 7:30 this morning, walking down the hall to Violet's room to tell her goodbye. Her perfect little body is stretched out in the bed and she turns her head and blinks. "Goodbye, mama," she says sleepily. My entire existence is Mad smiling softly, pretending to be asleep when I kiss her goodbye. My entire existence is my husband who springs out of bed to get the trash out to the curb on garbage day. The sun is just rising now and off I go.
There is nothing, there is no perfect. There is no perfect word or image, no perfect feeling or sound. There is only you, here, pulling in a breath. There is the space between notes, where anticipation lives. There is looking into eyes you know as well as you know yourself, the way their eyes shift and look and search for you. There is the steady weight of what makes a life a life, and the weightlessness of it, too, the way you find yourself in their searching gazes, the way the gaping space between seconds comes together and forms eternity. Hello, beautiful, you say to their sweet faces, and you may as well say it to the sky for all it gives you.
Her bib was orange, signifying that she was running the ultramarathon, and she was laboring toward the finish line, rounding off her 31st mile. "STRONG FINISH!" shouted a well-meaning spectator and the woman grimaced, turning to the man running next to her. "There is no strong finish," she said. "There is only finish." She says it like a mantra, again, like she's reminding herself. "There is only finish." And on she runs.
"I could have been a runner," says my mother-in-law. "I could have run marathons. I really liked that kind of thing when I was younger." She stares thoughtfully at the runners huffing past us.
Near the finish line the crowd pushes against the gates, cheering wildly as runner after runner come bounding around the corner, end goal in sight. A sudden hush. A tall, thin man with ropey muscles is bent at a 90-degree angle, held up on either side by two men with grim faces. The bent man stares at the ground, pale, sweat pouring from his brow. His feet continue shuffling forward and when a medic comes in to intervene he lunges his body in such a way that pushes the medic away. And he continues shuffling on as the two men keep him upright, just so he can feel his feet cross that finish line. Oh. I still wonder about that man, wonder how much he trained for this, how many marathons he's run, what mechanism broke in his body so that it was only sheer force of will and the help of two others that kept him going. I wonder because it seems like a particular kind of madness to go, go, go. I wonder about that, the goal he had in mind and how tightly he held on, and how he refused to let it go.
We've been waiting for about an hour inside the exhibit hall near the starting line. The girls are making signs in support of their dad. "How do you spell love?" asks Madeleine, bent over the big white square of paper, black marker in hand. She writes carefully "L O V E" and underneath, "DAD GO," two words she knows how to spell on her own.
Violet arranges a mini-rainbow of markers next to her and squiggles out two butterflies on her poster board. She decorates them with multi-colored dots. "Dad will love this," she announces while she carefully fills in dot after dot. "Dad loves bugs, so he will love these butterflies!" She admires her work proudly. Later she stands near the finish line, encouraging runner after runner with her butterfly poster.
The winner of the ultramarathon bounds down the final stretch of the race, past half-marathoners who look tired and worn. He pumps his arm and fairly flies toward the finish line, encouraging everyone to cheer for him. They do. It's a thrilling sight to see someone so enjoying such exertion, so exulted by what a body can do when it rises to a daunting challenge.
Violet walks along the sidewalk near the 26 mile marker. Runners pass, eyes determined, faces forward, breathing labored. Red-faced, tired. She weeps loudly, inconsolably. "My HAIR," she sobs. "I don't want in my face!" She stops and drops her arms to her sides, refusing to move another inch for just a moment. "I'm just. so. TIIIIRED." She cries. People openly laugh, and I don't blame them at all.
Here he comes, the one we've been waiting for. Wayland rounds one of the last corners of the race and I shout, "There he is! It's your dad!" And Madeleine takes off running, thrilled, joining him on the course and falling in line next to him like it's the most natural thing in the world. He's smiling, but his normal fast pace has dwindled quite a bit. I call Wayland's dad, who is stationed much closer to the finish line. "He's coming!" I tell him. "Just a few minutes now!" I walk back to the finish line with Violet who is so not going to run anywhere, and I watch as Mad and her dad plod along ahead of us. Mad in her pink clothes, hair flying behind her, arms out from her sides like she expects to take flight. Wayland tall. They turn the final corner and I don't see them anymore. My mind follows, though, so thrilled and proud, gobsmacked by a powerful lesson. Sometimes you really can just DO something you want to do. Sometimes you just decide, and you act, and you find a reason to keep going even when it's hard.