Last Friday was the last day of regular classes before finals, and in order to make an exemption list, pretty much all grading had to be done Thursday, no matter how much grading there was. So, I sat in my classroom for a few hours after school marking seventy essays about tragic lives in Ancient Greece.
Listening to Luke Combs didn’t help much, nor did Dr. Pepper. I wanted to be home. I wanted comforting hugs and mindless TV. But I told myself on the way home, “You’re not going to get those things.” (As Abby likes to put it, “We didn’t get that [life] version.”)
Even so, when I walked through the door, I still hoped. What I got was, “I was just about to call you to see about dinner.” Ab, who was busily painting a portrait in her bedroom, hollered a hello. I went immediately into the kitchen to start baking chicken tenderloins and chopping onions. I wasn’t angry or even disappointed–I was what we all are right now: resigned.
Lately, we have learned quiet resignation–the limbo between the glass half full clear-eyed cheer and the glass half empty doom-and-gloom. The past fifteen months have been a time of snail’s pace healing–it is amazing how numb we still are. Our thirteen year old cat died recently–likely of the same mouth cancer Greg had. (No, the irony is not lost.) None of us cried. All of us should have. Sophie was the sweetest, softest Gatsby cat–even if she chose never to leave her bedroom. She spent her days alone, looking out the window at birds and hydrangeas. She was worthy of many tears–instead, the three of us sat in the den saying, “Um, we aren’t crying,” and agreeing: we aren’t healed.
That’s what we want to be, what society wants us to be–to follow the prescribed emotional healing schedule–to read a self help book titled something like Six Days to a Better You and see our traumas disappear in a poof–but, for us, it hasn’t been like that. Greg physically feels better; Abby wants to go places again; I can spend the night away from the house. These are ways we know we are moving forward.
But there is not yet joy. There is not a lot of doing for. Your chore is still your chore, and I will do mine, thank you very much. There is not much spontaneity. The suggestion of going to a movie is vetoed forcefully–though we will venture out for Rodeos’ minichangas. And there’s not a lot of affection to be had–everyone still wants to be left alone. We’re not shaking hands at church, we’re not holding hands at dinner, and we entirely avoid being with one another in the kitchen.
But, last week in the kitchen as I chopped those onions, I wished things were different, noisier–that I had an effusive husband, that Abby was peppier, that I, at least, could make the full leap back into joy.
And then, I heard it–that still, small voice: “Someone wants this life.”
Someone else wants this life where her husband survives cancer three times–where he is a little grumpy and sometimes sad, but alive.
Someone else wants this life where the two old cars don’t have A/C but are paid for–a hot car is better than no car at all.
Someone else wants a house where everyone has their own bedrooms. Where the backyard has a drake elm so beautiful that it alone can heal you–again and again, year after year. Where the front yard boasts mimosa trees and a Japanese magnolia, with their flowers’ wonderful solace.
Someone else wants an intact family, with parents who can sit at the same table. Who can play a board game, go on a walk, watch TV together.
There is a natural tendency to look at the lack and the loss and not at the still having.
And all of us still have a few things
This is not Guideposts. I did not change immediately. When, at dinner, Greg said all he wanted was one tenderloin instead of the three I offered him, you could tell twenty-nine years have passed since I read Stormie Omartian’s The Power of a Praying Wife.
But, after these fifteen long months, I found myself grateful enough that he was in the next room. That he at least liked the potatoes. That he is still here to cook for, and I’ve stuck around to cook for him.