When I tuck in my six-year-old daughter tonight, she says she’s grateful for ice cream. Then she takes my palm and, with her eyes closed tight, kisses it and says, “Even if you wash this hand, the kiss will stay.”
I had been feeling sad that afternoon. And mad at myself for feeling sad. I should be over this. I should be getting better.
I took a walk by myself through the cold damp, taking the alleys, the secret ways of the neighborhood: broken gates swinging open, moss growing on tree roots, window sills rotting.
Fellow walkers stayed so far away, out of kindness or fear, that our eyes couldn’t meet.
Yesterday my 16-year-old daughter Virginia painted her room frosty pink over the Dalila yellow she had chosen when she was 10, and placed purses and sexy clothes on the shelves which used to hold Keira Cass novels and encyclopedias of Greek mythology.
I find the turquoise leather Holy Bible that my aunt gave her and its onion-skin pages remind me of my grandmother, who would underline passages with a ballpoint pen and a ruler, passages that I didn’t understand but that seemed mysterious and important.
I find the poem “A Time for Everything” in Ecclesiastes on page 841. It says that everything is supposed to be this way: there is a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to be born and a time to die.
In my bedroom after my walk, I can hear Virginia chopping broccoli downstairs, playing Whitesnake songs I listened to when I was young and new Dope Boy ones I don’t understand. My children are becoming adults. I am getting older too.
I thought this life was going to be safe. I have not been a refugee, a revolutionary, a migrant. A minority, a wounded soldier, or a widow. I have been spared the trials of being hungry, poor, or homeless. It has been a stable existence, rocked only by dramas of my own creation.
But all our scientific advances and smart phones and futures trading were not enough to save us from this plague.
When I tuck my 9-year-old son Luke into bed, I sing him “Amazing Grace,” as I have done since he was an infant with a silky-border blanket. I touch his slight, smooth arms and know they will be bigger than mine one day. He doesn’t think his lullaby is as special as the one I sing to his sister, “You are My Sunshine.” What is a wretch, he asks, and how can you see if you were blind?
But this song gets to the heart, the opposites bundled up inextricably into this one big life. Yet I keep insisting on strength without getting hurt, rest without feeling exhausted, understanding without confusion, courage without fear. Where tyranny was missing, I have created my own oppression of easy smiles, bouncy optimism, and relentless self-improvement.
I lie in my bed after the children are asleep, the older ones quiet on their screens. The cat who disrupts my slumber too early every morning rests his purring face into the curve of my hand.
The kiss is what stays. I feel it as she sleeps and I am still. It’s something strong yet untouchable, like love. I want to hang onto the sunshine, push away the storms. But there’s something that infuses and encircles it all. And the only way to hold onto it is to somehow let go.