To try to be brave is to be brave.” George MacDonald
Today we are outside on our driveway blowing bubbles. It’s only May, and the leaves are freshly born and green, but already, now that they are here, they are foreboding of fall. I am safest in March, just before their arrival- when the long winter is over, and all of the warm days are yet to come.
I can see my daughter’s blurred face through my bubble wand before I blow. I’m grateful that even though she’s nine, she still enjoys the simple pleasures of blowing bubbles. I am thinking about an Oprah episode that I watched in between jobs, as a newlywed, in my Brooklyn apartment. This was at the time that the “law of attraction” was really big, and Oprah was saying that if you just become aware of the fact that you’d like something, the universe will bring it to you. In her case, she thought to herself, “I think I’d like to try blowing bubbles,” and lo and behold, when she mentioned it to her assistant, her assistant said that she’d gotten her a bubble blower from Tiffany that was currently on her desk. It had been a holiday gift, I believe, but Oprah hadn’t even noticed it.
Oprah took this to be a sign that we attract the things that we want. I saw it as a sign that she had way too much stuff if she couldn’t even acknowledge a Tiffany bubble blower. (not to mention the fact that the beauty of blowing bubbles is their simplicity and affordability- no silver wand required except for those who already seem to have everything).
I suppose we knock on wood for similar reasons- because we know, even on an unconscious level, that our words have more power and layers than they appear to. But I’ve never believed in the law of attraction that Oprah was so big on. To me that is just another attempt to have control in a world where things just don’t always make sense. Sowing and reaping, yes.
I am remembering Oprah’s Tiffany bubble blower today as Audrey and I take turns blowing bubbles and chasing them. At one moment, I see all of those iridescent bubbles floating out in front of her, and it is one of those transcendent moments that I’ve gotten to take part in since having a child, and since losing a spouse. I’m pretty sure not everyone gets to see them. They appear out of nowhere and have nothing to do with social media worthy photographs or events. They are rooted in earthiness, in their simplicity and humaneness, but simultaneously, existing in some other dimension- not lifted up off of the earth, but layered on top of it. I had another one of these moments last summer, or was it two summers ago, while Audrey was driving a bumper car at a boardwalk amusement park, and I stood watching her. She had such a serious expression on her face as she maneuvered the car, one of the first rides she drove alone, tears fell down my face at the sight of her in that loud and boisterous space. I imagined, just for a moment, my husband watching her…being in awe of how she’d grown. Transcendence. Not happiness, or even joy- another layer over everything. A still point in the turning world in Eliot’s words.
I’ve been struggling to find words lately for anything. I’ve not taken up my usual weekly habit of journaling. Praying too has been hard, though I am grateful for this woman’s daily prayers delivered to my inbox that I can say aloud when I find I am wordless. “I don’t know what to say…” I text two weeks ago to one of my sweetest friends, also a young widow and mother of three- just diagnosed with breast cancer. Because I really don’t know what to say.
Another school shooting evokes the same war of social media posts, but I have no words. It’s happened again. And then it evaporates off the “trending” newsfeed just like that.
A fatal bus crash of a town nearby leaves me feeling sick to my stomach. Just two weeks after my daughter’s own field trip- the one where I emailed the teacher and told her I had major anxiety issues and she offered to text me photos of my child throughout the day. The one where I told her to sit up front because she gets motion sickness, but to not sit in the very front row because it was more dangerous. “My worst nightmare…” parents posted on my town website. Yes. I had just posted a photo of a little note my daughter had left on my nightstand a few days prior along with a tiny sprig of purple flower from the field across from our house that we always say looks like it’s had its petals painted by fairies. It read, “Always look on the bright side.” After I see the article about the bus crash, I immediately take down the photo. It is inappropriate. The words.
I believe words are powerful. Sometimes in an eery way. Audrey is constantly saying something and as she speaks, she sees the word she was saying, either on a street sign we are driving by, or a page lying open in a book or magazine. It happens to me too, and I wonder about it. “Look! I was just saying the word “odd”, and there it is….” she always says. And last week while I’m sitting in my kitchen with the sick feeling from the events of this world, Audrey is working on her school vocabulary homework on the computer. A computerized female voice is reading off the words: “de-jected.” “Terror” “Tragic” “Dreary.” “Why are those words so negative this week?” I call out to her, in a frustrated tone. I don’t like them floating up into my home. The home that I have literally walked around blessing with positive words over every door frame.
But silence is powerful too. “Silence is the home of the word,” wrote Henri Nowen, and I’ve never forgotten that phrase. Even in silence, even without speaking, there is the home, the canvas, the rests between notes, testifying. I think it’s OK to just rest in that home for a time, wordless.
I am praying for those families, for my friend, and for our country, often with no words. Aware that even surrounded by all of the lush leaves and blue sky and birdsong on a sunny, warm day, there are hospitals and biopsies, and very raw things that even poetry can not quell.
One of my favorite definitions of grief that I read years ago was simply “a loss of courage.” Some days and weeks seem to take our courage. Last week, Audrey had to go to the orthodontist for an appointment she wasn’t looking forward to at all. That morning, I noticed the word “Brave” written on one of her fingers in glittery “Inkadoodle” (these are pens you can draw on yourself with). She had written it there as an anchor for herself. Words may not save us, but they may point us to the Word, and give us courage when we have lost it. Maybe that’s why I wore the word, “hope” around my neck for years. If you have lost your courage, I am sending you this simple word today. And this lovely poem by Czeslaw Milosz:
—When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add up,
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.
—And if there is no lining to the world?
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign,
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day
Make no sense following each other?
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth?
—Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that perish,
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests, screams.