“So strange, life is. Why people do not go around in a continual state of surprise is beyond me.” William Maxwell
“First it’ll be September, then the holidays, then you’re half-way through the school year, then done, and before you know it, you’ll be back here again.” These were the unusually deep and philosophical thoughts from my cashier at J-Crew when I was back to school shopping a couple of weeks ago.
Time warps and bends in strange ways when you lose someone, especially the parent of your then-baby. Instantly, you envision all of the milestones and years ahead that she will have without him. Those moments line up in an obedient row. Each occasion, each year you live through—the cartography of your loss, but also life magnified.
Last night at bedtime— first day outfit laid out, nervous excitement in her restless limbs, I read George MacDonald’s account of a little boy named Diamond who visits with angels who are digging for stars with pickaxes:
And every time a star was dug up all the little angels dropped their tools and crowded about it, shouting and dancing and fluttering their wing-buds.
When they examined it well, they would kneel down one after the other and peep through the hole; but they always stood back to give Diamond the first look. All that Diamond could report, however, was, that through the star-holes he saw a great many things and places and people he knew quite well, only somehow they were different—there was something marvelous about them—he could not tell what. Every time he rose from looking through a star-hole, he felt as if his heart would break for joy; and he said that if he had not cried, he did not know what would have become of him.
I am surprised by my tears this morning when I drop her off. She was two, then three, now four, five, six, seven, eight…”She started fourth grade today,” I will tell him like I always do. This morning I remember how she told me on her first day of preschool that she had heard her father’s voice the night before in her crib, when she was alone, wishing her a good first day. I wonder why that was possible then and not now—that star-hole.
I wish for a way to slow things down and sort things out. Maybe if I write, or walk, or pray. But this is all part of it too, so it’s probably best that we just bear it—the bittersweet, the wonder, and the surprise.