There is no one on my lap, no one honking my nose or jungle gymming my back or gripping single strands of my hair with tiny, dimpled fingers. Adults crowd tables that look like high school chemistry class, but everyone is spaced out in socially appropriate bubbles and no one is doing experiments. I sit with three vacant chairs, staring at the exposed ceiling and pretend to vibe to the relevant music obscuring human conversations and clinking keys.
I am always too ambitious about being alone. My bag is stuffed with luxuries - Lord of the Rings, computer, daily liturgy, journal and some pens. I open a tab to make a list about all the things and it overlaps my stream of consciousness: articulate our family's approach to discipline, write/rewrite a social media post, finally get more garlic at the grocery store for goodness sakes, breakdown our budget to weekly cashflow, look at houses for sale with/without boards on windows, think a whole thought, look through emails for things a normal human would have responded to already, reach out to realtors and lenders, look up "what to say to realtors and lenders" on community resource pages, decide whether my kids will ever be the kind of kids who wear real pajamas, write something down with a pen, look adult and confident and busy and important, watch people for a relevant reference, drink something all the way at the temperature it was when I ordered it, ̶w̶r̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶b̶o̶o̶k̶, , make a plan to write a book.
Days later, here I am again in the freedom of alone at a different coffee shop, this time in our neighborhood. We - my neighborhood and me - are less cool and more practical. Aluminum folding chairs, computer, coffee, days-old hair and I think I slept in this shirt. I sit by the window and try to still my streaming thoughts, try to distill a sentence or a political commentary or even return to some of the list left unchecked from my last moments alone. But, I also have a dentist appointment this morning and I took too long ordering that ice coffee...
Again, alone. I came on my bike today, breathing the wet that comes after rain and feeling different muscles work to keep me in motion. My body battles back at me - creaking out something about, "use me more, not less." Ok, I say under my breath, and I tilt my head toward giant, shining magnolia leaves and lean in so my shoulders can feel the rhythm of my pedaling as I duck under a flowering tree that hovers over the road. Morning is good for yard work and neighbors are in front lawns and on porches. I smile and my hellos surprise me. The world sounds so fine without my voice in it, with just the crackling neighborhood morning sounds.
I beg my arms not to surrender to the weird fungus that appeared in the crease of my elbows.
Did I sleep last night?
My hands kept feeling like eczema fire and I remember flopping around with Foster - trying to get him to tell me what the trouble was, but our conversation was half-asleep. Must not have been serious because he woke up happy at 6 am.
Being human is broken.
Some people, I guess, can sometimes feel like everything is kind of okay. Like-- maybe the world isn't perfectly ordered, but their lives seem to be and it feels good. I'm not one of those people, or at least I can't remember ever being that person.
I like the tension of longing. I think I even long for it. Maybe the act of longing sets me squarely in the present but connects me beyond it - recognizing deep in my spirit that all is not well right now, but it will be. It has been. It is in heaven. From night's groggy end to it's dusky beginning, I busy myself inside the ordinary moments while searching for that unnameable something that connects me outside them.
"There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. . . . It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work." C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain
I am present in my work - grabbing the leftover "pet elephant food" [marble] before it hits Foster's lips, attempting to answer, "how did all the words get in there - in the Bible?" with some kind of pure simplicity, clean then dirty dishes and splattered stovetop and worm hunts and porch swings and toy baskets and sweat snuggles and the exhausting explanations about kindness coming from the heart.
I am home now, both children covered in carrot-berry smoothie. We take turns swaying in front of all seven windows. I spin for an applause of giggles. Beauty, delight, magic.
"But, I wasn't hitting Mama! I was just patting."
"It was an accident, I think"
"I wasn't trying to..."
But what was in your heart, babe?
I can see her eyelashes, all of them resting on her cheeks, when she says that last word. We heave breaths together, sweat mingled on all the arms. Yes, sweet girl. When there is ugly anger inside us it is incredibly hard to be kind. Almost, even impossible. She ducks into my skin, curls up and whispers, "I'm jealous." I know, I say. And I hold them both like two wiggly fish on my lap on the floor in afternoon glow of all the front windows.
It is broken to be human and it is human to be broken.
And the bravery of a small life is to be about the work of restoration in the present moment, because of / in light of / in search of that desire that is hidden inside all of us. Eternity. It is saying YES to victory in Jesus by claiming His redemption over spilled milk and gentrification and humans who are called illegal. It is acting out that redemption in all the ordinary ways that callous our hands, not measuring a moment or a person or a question or a detour in light of its earthly value. The bravery of a small life is longing that all would be made well, knowing it is in Christ, and weighing the value of our days on the scale of His Kingdom come.
And I think I'm going to write a book about that.