My Ivory Sweater
A few months ago I wrote a blog about James running head first into the glass wall at The Apple Store. Yesterday, I understood how he felt, because this time, it was me.
James is fast. And as we were leaving the YMCA after his first day at Day Camp, he got away from me. Within seconds he ran out of the automated glass doors, headed for the street. I could see him from afar, as I sprinted to catch him. But when I reached the doors, they did not open as quickly as my body needed them too, and before I knew it, I was on the ground. The impact shook the glass and it made an awful sound. I managed to get back up and somehow make it to James before he made it to the road. But then, I collapsed on the hot cement. Holding James and my throbbing arm. Thankfully, it was my forearm that caught the brunt of my impact, and not my head. (Although, maybe – as they say – it would have knocked some sense into me?)
As James and I huddled together near the curb, I started to cry. Actually, I wept. I sobbed. Like a baby. James has a hard time when other people cry, including me, so he moved in closer. He touched my cheek, stared at me and said in a concerned tone, “Bobby?” Within seconds several of the the YMCA staff came running. “Please let us call the paramedics to look at you?” they begged, confirming my embarrassment of how loud and hard my impact must have been. I refused because deep down I knew my arm would be okay.
But mostly I refused because I looked at James and knew he couldn’t handle it. I knew he couldn’t handle one more “different” scenario and maybe I couldn’t either.
But as the tears poured out of my eyes onto the hot cement, I knew exactly what was happening. This display of emotion had nothing to do with my hurting arm. It was weeks of buried fear and grief finding its way out, which it always does.
James and I spent last week in Cleveland visiting family. And although it was perfect in a million ways, mostly because he got to spend a ton of time with his cousins, it’s always hard for James to be in a new place. That unfamiliarity resulted in a launry list of interesting events; me being awoken one morning by being thrown up on. Another morning by being peed on. One day finding James completely… and I mean completely… covered in blood. And lastly, when trying to get him to the restroom at a truck stop somewhere in Kentucky, pieces of poop fell out of his pants like someone spilled a box of Milk Dud’s as we ran down the automotive aisle. All of these stories deserve their own blog posts, so I will save them for another time. Suffice it to say, we are both out of sorts. We returned to Nashville, to our new odd normal, only to start the day on Monday with even more newness. The first day of summer camp for James. Bad planning on my part.
As we walked/carried James to the registration desk at the YMCA, there were more new people, new sounds, a new tent. He was overwhelmed. We left him in tears, knowing that he was in good hands. But remarkably I didn’t cry. I knew I had a job to do and a busy day ahead.
When I got home, I began the very difficult task of packing my belongings.
But as I stepped into my closet I felt lost. It was if making this first step was the hardest thing I’d done in years. How do I even begin to sort through all the memories? So many clothes, too many shoes, the sweatshirt that Jim and I bought together while on vacation in Bermuda for our honeymoon. All the years of Grammy outfits that represent so much hard work and passion and heartache. What should I keep? What should I take to Good Will?
And when will I let go of the dream that I might actually fit into my favorite jeans from college?
And then I remembered something a friend said to me earlier in the week. We were talking about the BIG questions in life… you know… the important ones about faith and love and God. “Is God in control? Are we? Is the Universe? Or are we all just spinning around on this big ball of dirt left to our own devises?” And he said,
“Lynn, start with what you know, what you believe to be true, and live that.”
What? You mean I don’t have to know everything today? I don’t have to have all the answers?” This was sooooo comforting for me. I felt like someone had lifted a ton of bricks off my shoulders and then showed up at my door with Vanilla Double Stuffed Oreo’s and cold milk.
Sitting in my closet, his words played over and over in my head. “Start with what you know.” Maybe this can apply not only to big questions but little ones too? I looked at my clothes packed in like sardines. I pulled out my favorite ivory sweater. “I KNOW I want this. I know come fall this will comfort me.” And so it began. Sweater by sweater, shoe by shoe, I lovingly packed each box and before I knew it, there were two boxes, then three. I got a text from my niece Jill in the midst of it who said,
“Remember, I think you are supposed to pack lightly when you are on a long journey. All that baggage just weighs you down.”
I pulled a few things out of the box and moved them to the Good Will pile.
She is right. This will be a long journey. But I know each journey ends in new place; either physically or emotionally. And when I unpack this box in a few months I have to believe that I will be in a better place. I reflected that it has already been many years since I collapsed in this closet. Into a pile a dirty laundry, screaming at God because I had no idea how in the hell I would accept what I had been given; the responsibility to love and care for a special needs child. In some ways, I know that I have grown beyond my wildest dreams into a person that can handle such an important task. But sitting on the hot cement outside the YMCA, after barely grabbing James before he reached the street, made me feel scared and vulnerable. Sometimes crisis and chaos happen because it’s the only thing that makes you dig into your soul and see what’s really in there.
It was as if hitting that door shook loose all the anger and hurt and fear that I have pushed down for months, resulting in a river of tears, but uncovering more strength than I knew I had inside of me. I picked James up. We kept moving. I kept packing. Left foot, right foot, breath.
Back home, James quietly played in his room with his iPad (finally in his comfort zone) and I headed back into the closet. St. Francis of Assisi said,
“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
I packed for a few hours and gradually gratitude entered in the space left behind from the packed sweaters. I thanked God for the past journey that changed me. That He did not leave me where I was, when I was scared and fumbling around in the closet so many years ago. That He did not leave me stuck in my pain and fear, but He somehow pushed, pulled and guided me through. Someone asked me once, “Why do you think you had to go through such a hard time to get where you’re at today?” So I could pack my closet.
My arm is fine. Just a bit sore and black and blue. If I had let the YMCA staff call the paramedics, I’m afraid they wouldn’t have known how to treat the real problem;
the temporary brokenness of my heart.
But over the next few days I know the swelling will decrease and the mobility will return, allowing me to lift and reach and stay open. I’m trusting the same will happen to my heart.