On our Unknown Luxuries

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Exhaust the little moment.  Soon it dies.
And be it gash or gold it will not come
Again in this identical disguise.
        -Gwendolyn Brooks
This morning was the second day of school. That means my almost six-year old is still getting the most adorable and well-balanced lunches and snacks- like a banana with a smiley face on the peel and a black and white cookie. Lunch is a bologna (organic turkey bologna, of course) and cheese sandwich carefully cut into the shape of a pig face accompanied by raspberries and salted cucumbers, all packed the night before. I’ll give it a few weeks before I’m scrambling to find something in the fridge to toss in her lunch bag in the morning.
The advent of September and back to school is bittersweet and sentimental for most parents. A child grows from a baby to a certified child fairly quickly, and no one really tells you that when you’re meticulously typing up your birth “plan” (chuckle) and researching cloth diapers (my husband put his foot down on that one) busy shopping for the perfect stroller or crib, or bouncer, or high chair. That in just a couple of years, you’ll be offloading that stuff, spritzing her hair with Fairy Tales lice repellant on the way out the door, and sending your “baby” to a public institution for 6-1/2 hours a day where she’ll spend half of her day just getting in lines, responding to a rhythmic clap with that same rhythmic clap (which I now find myself freakishly doing when I’m home alone to return my wandering mind back to my writing), and eating the above pig-shaped sandwich at the sound of a bell while a cranky 60 year old lunch aid with a heavy Jersey accent and smoker’s voice tells her to hurry up and eat it all (there goes five years of teaching mindful eating habits so daughter could learn to listen to her body’s natural hunger, enjoy her food and never have to deal with dieting and eating disorders later in life).
Ah…but my thoughts have gone somewhat astray. For widows with children, the bittersweet quality of back-to school is magnified. It is one more year further from the year he was alive. She is one year older than when he last saw and knew her. She is actually growing up into a real human being- everything I knew those first days of early shock and grief is coming true- we are moving forward through our lives- without him. There’s the dreaded yearly paperwork: emergency contact forms to fill out,  and of course the line that says: “Father’s name.” There are in fact many pages of widow forums and blogs with lengthy comments dedicated to what women will put on these forms, “I like to put his name so that they don’t think he’s a deadbeat dad.” “I put his name and then ‘deceased’ in parenthesis,” says another. I remember the first time I had to fill out that form for preschool- I’m pretty sure in my early grief crazies, I put “in heaven” as my dearly beloved husband’s address. Besides the paperwork, there’s also the proliferation of dads present at first and even second day drop-off. This catches me off guard, as it does at Saturday birthday parties sometimes.
This morning, I notice a few scarlet red leaves on the sidewalk while walking up the hill to her school. It’s only September 5th, but here they are. And then as we turn the corner and head to her new “drop-off” a couple with a daughter in her class is walking away smiling together. The mother tells my daughter that she likes her skirt, the layered pink tulle one with gold polka-dots she selected for her second day, and to let her know if they make that in her size. What a lovely couple. What a luxury. And I let myself picture just for a few moments how my husband also would’ve attended these first and second-day drop offs and what a huge comfort he would have been to my overly sentimental heart. We might’ve walked away holding hands.
And then I wonder if this couple has any glimpse of their luxury, or if it is just so normal, so everyday for them to have each other. I wonder too if my husband were alive if I would feel it a luxury as we walked away from the school together, (um, no) or if my mind would’ve been racing off to to-do lists and concerns that I felt made my life oh, so, hard. (yes) And then my thoughts travel to the mothers of the Sandy Hook children who would see my very being here, at a school, to drop off a first grader, one who is still alive,
as
a
luxury.
I’ve never liked it when people try to get me “un-depressed” by pointing out the more miserable situations of others. Does that not make me even more sad for the human condition? And yet, there is unavoidable truth measured there. There are hidden luxuries we do not see otherwise. Sometimes we need a visual, not really of someone else’s pain, but of another version of what our own lives could be quite easily, to grasp what we already have. In my earlier grief days I’d had and recorded an epiphany one day- that even then, with the tremendous loss I was experiencing- those same days of suffering might be days that would one day seem luxurious when they were gone. They are just that now- with her entrance into the chronological school grades- gone. I hope I treasured them well even in my grief. I think I did. I hope I was grateful and saw the often invisible richness all around me, or at least had a hunch it was there. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” Kierkegaard said. So, I move forward. “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” asks Emily from beyond the grave in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some,” answers the stage manager. I doubt it Emily, but I’m not even sure that’s the point anymore. But to know that life is fleeting and glorious and that is what makes it so, to know that you’ll probably never realize all of the luxuries you have each day or be as thankful for them as you should, to live with that in the background seems like a great start. I kiss our daughter goodbye for the day, tell her I love her, and start the quiet walk home in this suburban landscape of waning summer. It’s an ordinary day, a lush day in September of 2014.
But what I really hope for, is this. I hope that I can, despite this loss, somehow appreciate each present moment as it is, and be grateful to be in it. Because…how many times a day now do I think back to the most ordinary of days with you and feel I would give anything to be back there, just sitting on that couch watching bad TV in Brooklyn, or standing on that crowded train on a Monday morning holding onto you for balance, or listening to you sing your little song you sang as you changed our daughter’s diaper. If each of those days now seem so entirely extravagant, I tell myself, isn’t it quite possible that- despite the gaping loss- each of these days could also seem just as extravagant one day? This helps me cherish holding my three year-old’s hand as she drags me along balancing on every sidewalk curb…it helps me feel both contentment and sorrow as I get into bed, hugging your old Brooklyn hoodie and pulling the covers up over my head, and it helps me believe that there are many more layers of understanding than the ones in my possession. I present this as a gift to my readers- to know and realize that your life exactly as it is this day, ordinary, mundane, perhaps filtered with disillusionment or disappointment, is utterly extravagant because it could and may very well be, very different in another time and place.
Taken from Dear Audrey, the blog I kept for the first three years after my husband’s death. The entire entry can be found here.
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