Earlier this week I found myself in a darkened room singing a lullaby to my five month old granddaughter, Ana. It was, naturally, the same lullaby I sang to her mother, and then both of my other daughters, too. The same one my mother sang to me and my little sister.
I was singing to her, my chin on top of her sweet smelling head. She snuggled into me, resolving herself to her afternoon nap. She was so soft and warm, tucked so perfectly into my chest. In that moment there was nothing else. In that moment there was everything else. Lines blurred, time dissolved. I was with my sweetest new love. I was with all of my babies. My hands instinctively knew where to put themselves to cradle her to safety. My body rounded to hold itself around such a tender and soft little being.
You are safe. You are loved. Go to sleep, little baby.
And in my arms, my own babies again. All of the love from one into another and another. Growing exponentially as all living things must. In that room with the ghosts of babies I sang that very song to. All of the babies grown and gone. All of the babies go.
When she woke up from her nap, we went outside. She spends most of her time outside. My daughter walks through the trees with her where Ana stares up into their branches, mesmerised by the sun dappling through their swaying limbs. She thrusts her chunky little arm out, asking to be brought close enough to everything that interests her so she can touch it. The flowering purple blooms of an eastern red bud is worthy of shoving in her mouth to figure out. A soft green leaf of a cedar or a clump of wild onion are all wildly interesting to her hands, always reaching and opening for the next of life’s lessons.
I was sitting on a grassy knoll with her, playing with her soft, round little feet. Tracing her toes while she lied on the earth, content to watch the clouds for a time. I thought about my life up until that moment. Tried to unravel how it is that we get from one place to another. What happened? How is it that I, a woman in my fifties, came to find myself on this little patch of grass beside this pond with these turtles sliding into the water, with this sun on my shoulders, with this little human in Virginia?
My life has not been an easy one. My life has been easier than some. My life has been harder than others. I have known deep loneliness and pain just like we all have. I have known divorce and the retreat of a father. I have lived through our house burning down, moving from home to home, country to city. I have been profoundly alone at a tender age. I have lived through the wildness of a lost teenage girl - giving myself away, reckless and thoughtless. I have been physically hurt by men I thought good enough. I have lived on my own, a refugee when my school and my parent kicked me out. I have worked at truck stops, fast food restaurants, and the army. I know the pain of infidelity and the agony of divorce. I have been poor and desperate. I have had to navigate the health care system with wrong diagnoses’ for my children. I have had to go to war for those children. I have lost friendships and had to end relationships that cost too much. I have lost babies, still growing in my womb. I have lived for close to a decade with chronic illness. I have moved from place to place, sometimes not having a friend in the world but the squirrel that offered to spend some time with me in the park. I have lived through the deaths of my mentors, my elders, my loves. I live through the death of my very own flesh and blood, my eternal beloved, my beautiful daughter, Mila.
And in it all there is more. I have felt the rough touch of a cow’s tongue on my cheek. I have slept on the earth with only the stars as my blanket. I have been pierced by the green eyes of a man amongst men who looked directly into me and proclaimed his undying devotion. I have felt little arms wrap around my thighs - me their safety and salvation. I have played in wheat fields and climbed mother pines. I have swam in the crystalline blue waters of rock quarries and the salty blue waters of the oceans. I have ridden white waters and old horses. I have nursed life back into dying animals. I have had life nursed back into me by bluebirds and dragonflies. I’ve spoken to bumblebees and visited with beavers. I have pushed myself beyond my perceived capacity and excavated depths I couldn’t fathom. I have watched three beautiful young girls I brought into this world become wondrous young women. I have loved. I have been loved. I have been taught. I have taught. I have learned. In the depths of despair, the light warm and bright.
Of all that I have known. From all that I have known. I am here. Here leaning over this round little thing who stares into me with such ease. Give her a smile and she gives it right back.
Why am I so deeply blessed?
I am not worthy and yet here I am with the softest of miracles in my arms.
I have known loneliness so I know a connection to my loves so deep and everlasting that it takes my breath away. I have known the heartbreak of broken trust so I live in the solemn value of my word and truth in my relationships. I have known being lost so I keep my own map. I have lived without an anchor, so I tether my soul. I know death so I know life.
We all have our own path in this life. Some seemingly easier, or maybe more straight forward than others. That’s not mine. For every drop of tender, a bucket of pain. And yet, here I am. It is spring. There is life. God reminds me, there is life. This is life. Easter is coming and all around me, the awakening. The buzzing of gluttonous bees feasting on dandelions. The bursting shoots of cottonwoods. The excitement of the nest building birds. “Life”, they sing, “we are here in service to life!”
All I have been given. All I have been given. All I can give. All I can give. The living and dying of moments, folded into a life until that life, my life, folds itself one last time. Until then, you will find me singing lullabies with tears in my eyes for babies that are here and and others that await. Singing with a heart broken open by anguish, but seeping in gratitude.
And now, back to the bumblebee rumble that plays out before me as I write. A tentative little salamander has come in to referee the match. Who takes the little rock pile they’re all after is anybody’s guess.
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