As I watched Addie and her friends rush back and forth from piles of snow into the hot tub during her birthday party today, a tear appeared in my eye. I was thinking of this writing project, actually, and that many of the parents of kids at that party might actually read this. And how it’s us, really, just us flawed and faulty fathers and mothers, trying every day to make it possible for these kids to know they are loved. I thought of how it’s damn hard to make sure our own well-being is actually being well, and that our own deepest relationships are relationally deep, so we can show up remotely whole and steady for the job at hand. It’s not easy to keep it together, and yet these children here, who are at the same time so adventurous and invincible, while also completely fragile and vulnerable, they need us. There’s nobody else.
I watched their antics while a song played inside the house:
None of this is in your control
If you could only let your guard down
If you could learn to trust me somehow
I swear, that I won’t let you go
And it was that combination of thoughts and sights and sounds that was responsible for a sudden rat-trap of squinting eyes clamping down on the instant appearance of watery droplets beside my eyelids.
I would have lingered with the thought a little longer, but a hot tub full of eight year olds and younger siblings doesn’t really let you loiter. Within seconds, I was up on my feet trying to prevent the consumption of pool chemicals and announce that the pizza was here, and the party continued.
That was the second time a tear had appeared in my eye today. The first was earlier in the morning, while I was reading a book. I had simply been trying to shore up some strength in anticipation of the big day ahead, and in search of some alone time, I had retreated to my bedroom.
I was moving through the last few pages of this particular book. It’s by David P. Gushee, called Changing Our Mind. It’s a book primarily for audiences who are Christians, and it serves as a call for healthier, more intentional inclusion of LGBT Christians in church communities. It’s a little more academic than usual, written by an ethicist, though written quite accessibly.
The squint to trap that lone tear happened as I heard the echoes of past boldness, of emancipators and activists staking their claim for liberation. I’m hearing Lincoln, MLK, and I’m blinking away a tear because…
After what has been pages and pages of painstakingly careful language, we get to one of the last chapters, where we read the transcript of a speech in which he is addressing a gathering of youth from within this community. It has taken a long while to get here. He says:
“I will henceforth oppose any discrimination against you. I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections. I will be your ally in every way I know how to be.”
There seems to me to be no greater risk and hope than to make a promise like that to a community who is suffering. How do I read a thing like that and come away untouched?
The third time a tear appeared today was when I finally got to connect with Kendra after she returned from the funeral service she attended.
When I first met Kendra, in university, there was a mentor she had in high-school that was still a letter-writer and an active influence in Kendra’s life. Kendra had gone to prom with her son, and been a mentor to one of her 3 daughters. And it was a different daughter, only 27, who passed away last week.
Kendra described her experience at the service today. She described seeing the father and son together carrying the casket, in which lay their daughter and sister. Kendra shared the message she had drafted for her mentor, who had lost her daughter — a stunningly sensitive and heartfelt note. Kendra reported that her own tear ducts appear to be functional and in working order. I could verify that mine were as well.
This morning, during the obstacle course, Benjamin came in last place. He cried, and cried, and cried, and cried, and cried. He wailed and howled. His tears were the loudest I had heard all day. He believed that by coming in last place, he would be the last to get a slice of Addie’s birthday cake.
I heard myself trying to logic him out of it: explaining that the obstacle course had been designed for 8 year olds, not 6 year olds. That it was for Addie and her friends, not for the siblings. That he had still done really well, and I was proud of him!
But I thought back to the book I mentioned a couple weeks ago, called It’s Not Always Depression, which mentions how our core emotions just are, and need nothing more than simply to be felt.
So I walked beside him with my arm around him back to the beginning of the obstacle course, and simply said: “This is sadness, Ben. If you think of Inside Out, Sadness is at the control panel right now, and she’s allowed to be there. We can just let her be. This is what sadness feels like.”