Have you ever noticed how sometimes you keep reading or hearing the same story over and over again? It shows up in different forms, it takes different shapes, but it's like the world is conspiring to whisper to you the same message?
Here is the message that I've heard lately. It started in the form of a song by Over the Rhine. The lyrics go like this:
I was born to laugh.
I'll learn to laugh
Through my tears.
I was born to love.
I'll learn to love
My friend Monica gave me that CD shortly after Eliza died. It became part of my grief soundtrack, a mantra I would repeat after I got pregnant with the Deuce. I would listen to it on the way to my NST appointments with the Deuce, as I tried to love (or maybe tried not to love yet?) another baby that I felt could be taken from me at any moment. I heard it again Thanksgiving weekend.
Last week, Caroline received a gift from my friend Kristin and her family "on the occasion of Eliza's birthday." It's a book called The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. The illustrations are beautiful and the story is breathtaking.
It's about a girl who experiences a loss that hurts her heart. So she puts her heart in a bottle to protect it. This solution works well, except it also means she no longer notices things that used to bring her joy--like the stars and the sea. One day she realizes that she's missing out on the wonders of this world so she tries to retrieve her heart from the bottle. But it's stuck. She can't get it out; she can't break the bottle. She doesn't know what to do. Then she encounters a little girl, whose hands are tiny enough to reach in the bottle and give her back her heart, which allows her to fully embrace the everyday magic of the world.
I read the story as soon as I unwrapped the book, sitting in my car with Zuzu in her carseat. And then I reread it, wiping my cheeks so the tears wouldn't drop onto the pages, as I thought about Zuzu's tiny hands and the way they did so much to give me back my heart and allow me to see this world as full of wonder.
Today I opened up a note from a friend. She's moved to a far away city, but she has been so intuitively kind and thoughtful in the months (my God, years) since Eliza died, and I've always admired her immensely. In addition to the note she wrote, she included this poem by Mary Oliver (who has always been one of my favorites):
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer
and I did not die.
Surely God had His hand in this,
as well as friends,
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,
was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
"It's not the weight you carry
but how you carry it--
books, bricks, grief--
it's all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down."
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?
Have you heard the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep wave,
to which there is no reply?
Do you see what I mean about getting the same message over and over again?
How a song and a book and a poem are all telling me the same thing?
Here I am, two years out, having survived a grief I thought for sure should kill me.
Here I am, practicing the balance of carrying my grief--"it's not the weight you carry / but how you carry it"--and finding laughter again.
Here I am, at last feeling mostly capable of admiring the things of this world that are beautiful but also complicated in a way I never understood before--including my love for Eliza: "A love / to which there is no reply."
So here I am, thanking those friends who each felt compelled to share that message with me in song, in prose and pictures, in verse. I don't believe that God intervenes in our lives the way we so often want him to--by which I mean, I don't think he decides who lives and who dies. I don't believe he controls tsunamis or cancer diagnoses or car accidents. But I do believe he shows up in the people who surround us with love: "Surely God had His hand in this / as well as friends."
Sometimes it truly seems that the whole universe conspires to tell you something.