A few years ago it came to my attention that one of our former students who had moved up to a higher grade was, with her really young sister, in quite a crisis situation. Her mother was dying. It was upsetting. I found out that the children were spending most of their time at the hospital, eating out of vending machines and were much of the time, due to familial grief, an afterthought.At the time I decided that something needed to be done. I had a whole house with just two people living in it, so I offered childcare services to the dad, who quite honestly had no idea what to do with his two girls (they were from another country/culture, where most/all of the parenting responsibilities fell on his wife, and it was his job to just supply a living).
I should say I didn’t want to do it. I should say that taking in someone with such a different background, where they were a different race, whose ideas about life were so different from my own, was really difficult. I should say that it was very far from a perfect situation—I got sick as soon as I took these girls in, I was thrown back into early motherhood mode at the very time I was in late teen motherhood mode with quite a bit of time and freedom on my hands. Suddenly I had to dig for “pacies,” change diapers, help with homework, talk to teachers. I should say that much of the extra burden made me very uncomfortable. Sitting in a room by myself with a dying woman and trying to get her to eat…a woman I didn’t know very well, who came from a different place than me, who had a disease nobody seemed to be able to figure out—it was all just stupid hard.
I still find pacifiers in the unused corners of my house, and tiny socks…and last week when I was cleaning out my closet, another case of diapers. The oldest daughter is still here at school. She greets me daily and I remember that time when I read she and her little sister to sleep for a few weeks. The time when I tucked them into my bed and took the couch so they’d have a place to sleep that was just their own. It was difficult to take them in and also to let them go back into their world that was different than mine. And when I look at it just this way, it feels like I did both a superhuman and also really questionable thing. In the time since I’ve said very little of it outside of my circle because it’s not a story you tell. It wasn’t easy and there is no perfect ending to it. Just two girls now asked to go on without their mom, which if you’ve lost your mom, you know is hard. Just a dad who does his best, but is still somewhat lost when it comes to raising two girls by himself.
So none of it worked out with a storybook ending, and none of it was easy, and there are still days I wonder if I did it right. But I never wonder if I should have offered…or ever if I should have done it.
Here’s why. I offered this “help,” this care all by myself. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it before I asked the dad if he needed help. But when I offered, I found I wasn’t alone. When I offered, I found unlimited resources. When I offered, first one friend stood up with me and said, “I’ll go with you,” and then my whole school did the same thing. We did this thing with various political and religious beliefs and we did it without question. We supported two girls for a time when they desperately needed just a comfortable place to sleep, just a meal with people who cared. We did it when it was hard, and we did it when it made us all uncomfortable. We did it in spite of being flawed, in spite of not always having a ready and “correct” answer about what should come next. We cried lots of tears during and we held each other up and we looked at each other doubtfully…but we saw them through, and they are still standing. I remember emailing my pastor the night before my little friend’s mom died and asking what the world even meant if you could be a little kid and your mom could just die. And he answered very kindly that he didn’t know.
At the time it was difficult to know what the take away was from such a situation. Is there a lesson? Hell if I know. The lesson I learned is that I wasn’t alone in the world…it’s the lesson I keep learning…that I am loved. Isn’t that self-centered? I learned that I am loved. People loved me enough to stand with me when I made my life a very difficult and uncomfortable place. People loved those girls enough to stand with them when they were losing their mom. The lesson was that everyone should feel loved like that…exactly like that. When you are not alone in the world, when you are loved, you are capable of really difficult, amazing, and tremendous things.
The other lesson was…sometimes things are hard. They are just crazy, fucking hard. When that happens, it’s so good to stand up anyway, and go anyway. It reminds me of two different quotes, one by MLK, “The time is always right to do what is right,” and another that I think belongs to the Mormons but was given to me by a very good friend when I was going through a terrible time years ago. It was simple, but I’ve come to live my life by it. In my hardest times I say it to myself, “An easy life and a good life are not the same thing.”
Lately everyone has an opinion about what should happen with refugees, with guns, with police shootings, with illegal aliens, and it seems to me that perhaps we’re totally in the wrong ballpark here, with the questions we’re asking—let’s not even get into the “correct” answers everyone has readily available. What would Jesus, do, what’s the Christian response to be, what’s politically best. I don’t have a ready or correct answer for any of those questions. The only answer I have is the one that says in the end, everyone should feel loved, exactly like that…for our limited time on earth. It’s the fact that we don’t that’s the problem in the first place