I commute 128 miles each day, Monday through Friday. My closest friend, aka my husband Brian, is my chauffeur. The moment I step into my office my fast paced life begins, until I force myself to leave tasks undone and head out the door for home. It is typical that I arrive home at the dinner hour. I then catch up with our daughter, give a smidgen of affection to the dogs and march myself off to bed because I have nothing left within me which allows for further activity. I do not mind my commute, nor do I mind my fast paced job. In truth, I think my work environment and pace has prevented, in a true physiological form, depression. And I thank G-d for that.
Because I move at such a quick rate I often do not have time to allow myself to dwell upon my sorrow. Oh it’s always with me, but I don’t have much opportunity to be real with it. But today, I drove alone. And upon leaving work and getting on the freeway, I realized I needed gas. My first opportunity to get gas was at the exit of the Miramar National Cemetery where my son’s remains, remain. And my first tear fell at the beginning of the exit. Since I had the gift of time in the moment (Brian and Esther were both at a convention in downtown Los Angeles), I went to the gravesite of Cole. I don’t think it coincidental that I was given a bouquet of tulips today from one of the students at my work, G-d just works that way. I had them in the car with me and decided to take them to his site.
Now it just isn’t right…a mother should not see the name of her child on a headstone. But alas, I do. And I arranged the flowers at the base. I sat there and marveled at the minuscule insects that were feeding/breeding on the granite. It seemed fitting as Cole hated bugs yet they always found in him a perfect place to land. As I killed the odd breed, I laughed, through my tears, at the irony of their presence. And then I returned home and avowed to allow myself time to feel. To give in to my sorrow and once again be a woman in mourning.
Shortly after my son passed away, a dear friend of mine gave me a morsel of wisdom. She said, “Rivka, just remember you are going to need to extend grace to people, for they often don’t say the right thing.” I haven’t forgotten her words. And just this week at work, I was given verbal confirmation that I am walking in that wisdom. Someone said, “Thank you, Rivka, for your graceful manner.” And, “Thank you for the efficient and cheerful way in which you do things.” Now I have to tell you, those comments bring tears to my eyes because I am truly surviving on the strength and hope of our Lord G-d, Heavenly Father. For inside of myself I am flat, depleted, and worn. But everyday I pray to be useful and in (and of) service to G-d. And if people are seeing cheerfulness and grace within me, it is because the Holy Spirit is hearing my cry and answering my prayers. …I am grateful, humbled, and honored to be in His service.
And yet, this afternoon, MY afternoon…
On this day when I gave in to allowing myself a moment of grieving, I became stretched by an unknown stranger in need of the grace of that which my dear friend had counseled me.
I took the dogs on a short walk, mostly to satisfy their canine exuberance once I walked in the door. I have little Buddy, the Chihuahua/Terrier mix and Piper, the purebred Siberian Husky–Cole’s service dog. Now Piper is a super love. A sweet and beautiful creature. But she is terrified of little kids, girls especially. Mostly because they see her and run toward her in natural excitement that translates with a high pitch squeal. They long to take her fluffy, furry body and wrap their little arms around it. And the closer they get, the more terrified Piper becomes (of course one should never run up to a strange dog–but little girls are often too young to have yet adopted the policy). At any rate, as I was walking through the neighborhood behind my house, the last leg of our short jaunt, I spied a cadre of little girls running from one house to another, with a “mom chaperone” trailing behind. Based on their enthusiasm and bags in hand, mom included, I gathered they were on some sort of a scavenger hunt. Piper noticed them too, so I assured her it was ok and felt confident their own adventure would keep them distracted from Cole’s beauty (really I should say bitch, but it just doesn’t sound right–even in writing!).
I was almost past the little group, and mind you, I had my coat on with my hood over my head–my intent was to emanate the sentiment, “closed for the season”–when out of the mouth of the mom came a shout, “can I photograph your dog?” Uh oh, she penetrated my world with her intrusive request. Couldn’t she see I am in mourning? Couldn’t she feel my closure to the world? I was merely walking the dogs out of obligation to them, while missing my son and feeling great pain for his suffering and our loss. Why didn’t she know?
Well how could she? I do not have the advantage of wearing clothes of grief. Nope, I had just my green jacket and its protective cover failed me. But I needed this afternoon and needed it desperately. I also needed to respect Piper’s fear of little girls and so I said, “not at this time” and I kept walking. The mom was taken aback and quite put out by my response. In fact, she reacted according to her position…not mine.
“Grace. You will need to extend grace to people.”
Once I got the ugly thoughts quieted from my mind, I remembered back to Rivka the young mother. Rivka, who could put her shoes in the place of the mom wanting a photo. Of course from her perspective, taking a picture of a beautiful dog is not an imposing request. For little did she know, and little would I have known if I had been her, that I had just returned from the grave of my son and my heart was(is) broken though still functioning. So I enacted the words of counsel from my friend and I allowed the woman to think ill of me, and I chose to not think ill of her. Truth is, I envy her. I envy her excitement and exuberance for her children and their young stage of life. I love her place of intent, to bring joy to her group of girls through the simple act of photography. And I miss that place of being, though am grateful for once having had it.
There really is a great deal of hardship in this world. AND, there really is an awful lot of goodness. We really have a choice between bitterness and joy. I choose the latter of the two which is why being in the service of our Lord is so important to me. To think He can still find use of my brokenness blesses me with a peace I cannot explain. I am sorry to the mom for whom I could not accommodate. I am not sorry I did not stop for her to photograph a terrified dog. And I am not sorry that I allowed myself to be true to my own emotional state. I am just sorry that she might consider my actions unreasonable and therefore feel affronted by them. I am much more aware that as people, we are walking this earth, many of us, with stories that effect our actions. I am just one of them, and this is just one of my little stories.