mystery of the magic pockets

it seems mama had some magic pockets, too

A colleague asked, earlier today, whether I had any analgesics with me at work.  I wasn’t sure but thought so, explaining that my bag was, in fact, a Cavernous Vessel of Miscellaneous Crap, although I didn’t exactly use those words.

Instead I said something along the lines of: Ummmm, probably. Lemme take a look. I kind of have everything in here. You know. Just in case.

And as I clawed around in the bag’s vast sunken reaches, reaching past pens and reporter’s notebooks and band-aids and bacitracin and chocolate and moolah and moisturizer and hand sanitizer and CDs and thumb drives and nuts and cough drops and tights and spoons and earrings and cats, and yes, I’m joking about the cats, I told my co-worker about my father’s magic pockets.

I’ve written about them before. I‘ve written about him plenty, my late father Louis, a brilliant, eccentric, complicated and profoundly decent man with THE biggest heart and THE largest pants pockets of anyone who ever lived. He was born in 1907 — which means he was 56 when I was born, which also means he’d be 110 today, which totally blows my mind — and wore the smashingly high-waisted pants of a 1940s fella, the sort that buckled above his belly button and featured large, billowing pockets of voluminous capacity.

Whenever I needed or wanted something, I ran to my father with a Daddy Daddy Daddy! And whatever it was, he always, happily, miraculously had it on his person. “Well, let’s just check my magic pocket,” he’d say, then reach down, jangle around for few seconds and then haul up a gleaming pile o’ stuff topped with a Lego or a mint (no thumb drives in those days).

This isn’t exactly a repressed or traumatic memory. No trips to the shrink to parse my feelings about capacious paternal trousers. But until this morning, as I handed my coworker a bottle of generic ibuprofen retrieved from the depths, I had never fully realized that I’VE INHERITED THE MAGIC-POCKET GENE FROM MY FATHER. Oh my God, I’m Daddy!! I thought, flashing back to all those diaper bags I once packed with toys and tricycles and travel playpens and extra playmates for my children; to all those overstuffed backpacks filled with Every Possible Medical Supply and Every Possible Snack that I still bring on day trips with offspring; to all those winter-parka pockets crammed with extra hand warmers and extra mittens and extra money and extra skis.

Is it a pack-rat’s instinct? A Scout’s instinct? An expression of some need to control an uncontrollable universe? A throwback to my hunter-gatherer’s roots, illustrating a lingering atavistic urge to haul wild celery over the plains? Who knows? It’s a mystery.

But whatever it is, you could well argue that this same gene explains the hideous purple paisley harem pants I wore (IN PUBLIC, SHE NOTES) in the early 1990s, which, now that I think of it, did indeed have extremely commodious pockets. I’ve never been able to explain to myself or anyone else why I wore them. Now, thanks to my late-life revelation, I have my answer. I get to blame dad.

 

the arms of love

Like most everyone else with a smartphone, I try to unglue myself from it periodically — mute the ringer, shut the whole thing off for a couple hours or maybe even leave the damned pernicious addictive isolating gizmo in the car for the day. When I revive or retrieve said DPAI gizmo after a sabbatical, I look down and inevitably find text messages. Many, many text messages. One day, in one thread alone, I found 148.

No. That wasn’t a typo. Yes. One thread, 148 messages. ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-EIGHT. But it wasn’t just any thread. It was my extended Richardson family thread, and let me tell you, those babies are EPIC, full of personality and opinion and politics and joshing and photos and memes and videos and articles and emojis and all sorts of crack-me-up exchanges, with room for occasional stumbles and fumbles that resolve with love and humor. We talk about everything, and by everything I mean EVERY LAST THING, including things not normally discussed at length in family iPhone threads. Recently, the conversation veered from the smoke emitting from someone’s aged Civic to the banana pudding at a bakery on the Upper West Side to disco roller-skating and tube socks of the 1970s, and please don’t ask me to explain exactly how that happened.

Twelve people are on the thread these days, although that number’s been known to vary. Not everyone’s on it. If everyone were on it, I would check my phone after a few hours away and find not 148 messages but 1,480. This is a large clan. Each time I turn around, it’s larger, a chimeric formation of vital, interesting, profoundly decent and loving people. Some are related by blood. Some are related by marriage. And some, like me, are related by the miracle of blessed happenstance.

The Richardsons are my Family Part Two, the peeps who took over after I lost my Family Part One.  I sometimes (often) confuse people by referring to “my late father Louis” in one breath and “my dad Dan, who lives in Vermont” in another, at which point I can see little thought bubbles forming over their heads (WAIT WAIT WAIT AMY’S FATHER IS DEAD? ALIVE? DEAD? ALIVE? AND HE HAS TWO NAMES? WTF?) and I launch into a blathery genealogical disquisition explaining precisely how I came to have two fathers, one living and one gone; two mothers, both of them gone; an extra batch of truly awesome siblings; and a mass of similarly awesome satellite relatives whose exact relationships would require several more long, heaving Faulknerian sentences to explain in full.

I met the nuclear core of Richardsons 40 years ago this spring, when Dan was wrapping up his first year as headmaster at the wee girls’ arts school where my mother ran the music department. I was 13, an awkward nerd with dreadful bangs, clanging oral hardware and older parents always teetering on medical catastrophe. But Mama was wise. She saw and comprehended. Egged on by her, I fell in with this young and energetic brood: Dan and his wife, Pat. Jenny, their eccentric black lab. Their kids Danny, Randy, Betsy. Nils, their first add-on/bonus kid. They were clearly prone to such add-on/bonuses, picking up friends who became family through the mystical alchemy of time and love and laughter. Somehow, they wound up adopting people (plus dogs, but that’s another story), and I was lucky to be among the adoptees. When my childhood family died, that sealed it. “Consider my parents yours,” Danny wrote.

I’m always quoting that moment — in my writing, in my conversation, in my mind. It was so giving, so perceptive and complete. Isn’t that what family does? Give us precisely what we need precisely when we need it, whether a hug or a harsh correction? In this case I needed family itself, and so they gave of themselves. The gift alone was proof of its authenticity. It has proved itself, over and over, in all the years that followed, through the births of my children and the death of my husband and every spasm of life besides. Their arms stretched to embrace us, and we stretched back.

This past Easter weekend, a bundle of extended Richardsons gathered in Vermont for a wedding: Danny’s middle son, Cooper, and his beloved Olivia. We all laughed and ate and laughed and talked and laughed and danced and laughed, and somewhere between the eating and talking and dancing and laughing, we found a quiet moment to reflect with gratitude on what we shared as a family. There, sitting amid a Sunday feast at my brother Randy’s house, I marveled at the accidental genius that brought this group together, at the love exemplified by Dan and Pat as they opened their hearts to stragglers like me, at the love that still abides in that beautiful and ever-expanding assemblage of characters.

On Wednesday, I met Cooper and Olivia at that bakery on the Upper West Side. They were in Manhattan for a quick trip; so, as it turned out, was I. We ordered a mini banana cream pie, a kind of pudding ne plus ultra, and ate and laughed and talked and laughed and laughed. I texted photos of the empty pie dish and the happy couple to our fellow Richardsons, who erupted with joy in the thread.

Hugging the newlyweds goodbye, I thought: I could not have guessed, as a nerdy 13-year-old, that my life would expand to include these two beautiful young people. And so many others. So many arms of love.

This isn’t the family I was born into. That family, my Biancolli family, went on too soon to their glorious Elsewhere. But that loving family gave me this one before they left, and it’s a gift of endless proportions. It goes on and on and on and on, just like the text thread. Only longer. And better. And richer, with or without the pudding.

the love that lucy taught me

Twenty-five years ago tomorrow night, on April 5, 1992, I lost my sister Lucy to suicide.  She was 31, I was 28, and I vowed forever after that I would live my life for two.

Twenty-five years ago on Thursday morning, I rose and learned the news. I never knew at what hour, exactly, she’d swallowed a mess of useless psych meds and curled up on her bed with a stuffed bear to wait. Probably it happened before midnight. I had returned late from a few days away, and I was feeling exhausted and nauseated and achy. But the answering machine was blinking that night, so I pressed “play.”

Two messages, both from Lucy. I hadn’t told her I’d be away. Those were the days before cell phones. She had no way of reaching me. No way of even knowing I was out of town.

In the first message, left around 8 p.m., she was desperate. Sobbing. Pleading with me to pick up. Ame Ame Ame Ame. Please. Please be there. Please. Ame Ame Ame.

Oh, my God, I said. Oh my God, oh my God.

And then the second message played. She left it, I think, around 10 p.m., and she sounded perfectly normal. Am fine now, Ame! Don’t worry about me. Everything’s okay. Sorry about the earlier call. No need to phone. Feeling much better. I love you!

So I went to bed. I didn’t try calling her back. Because she was okay, right?

The next morning, the phone rang early. I lay in bed and let the caller leave a message. A few minutes later, I listened to it: an old family friend asking me to call him as soon as I woke. It was important, he said. It had to do with Lucy, he said. Please call, he said.

I knew immediately that she was dead. I called my friend and got his son. “I’m so sorry,” he said. I asked him if Lucy had killed herself. “Yes,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” I told him I was sorry he had to bear the news. I said this because no one should ever have to bear that news. I thanked him, and hung up.

I thought of Lucy’s second message. She’d left it, I was sure, after resolving to die. She’d left it because she didn’t want me to try calling her back and then worry through the night. She wanted me to get a good night’s rest before learning my sister was dead. It was so caring of her. So typical. So Lucy.

I held my husband and called my mother. She told me Lucy had OD’d. And I said, Mama. Mama. Mama.

“Oh, honey,” Mama said. “The poor thing. She’s not suffering any longer.”

No. No, you’re right, Mama. She’s not. That’s true. She’s not.

“Poor, sweet Lucy.”

Poor, sweet Lucy.

She was the sweetest person. The bravest person. The smartest person. The wisest, the goofiest, the most credulous and curious and radiant — a small, beautiful, interesting, interested, fiercely true human being who played Chopin as though she knew him and greeted the world with wonder despite her pain.

Burdened with unyielding psychiatric problems, she had spent too many years of her life bouncing from psych hospital to psych hospital and useless meds to useless meds and wrong diagnosis to wrong diagnosis, settling finally on temporal lobe epilepsy with a complex array of psychological issues on the side. The upshot: She was suicidal. Pretty much all the time, she was suicidal. Even when she put on a sunny face for friends, she was suicidal. Even when she was busy talking me through my latest silly man-woe, she was suicidal. She was almost never not suicidal.

She had tried once before, swallowing earlier fistfuls of those useless meds and awaking from a coma with a renewed appetite for living. I’ve written about that before. I’ve written sundry other blog posts describing our sisterly adventures, like that time I damn-near died hiking with her on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and then that time we both damn-near died in a car crash. I also wrote about her in my first memoir, House of Holy Fools; it’s a safe bet I’ll be writing about her again. How can I not?

Even after 25 years, I miss her. I’m spilling a few tears as I write this, proof that you never really “get over” the death of a loved one, you just make your path through life around it. You take all that you learned from your absent treasure —  all that they showed you, all that they shared with you, all of the life and love between you — and you wrap it around your shoulders and chest like a blanket against the cold. That’s my Lucy. She warms me still. She shows me how to live and love and always will.

She lived the way we all should live: without fear, restraint, self-consciousness, selfishness, small-mindedness, duplicity, cruelty or guile. She loved the way we all should love: with her whole being. She faced this world the way we all should face it: squarely. She embraced it in its fullness despite her own mysterious torment, and she lived life as though she meant it, as though it mattered, as though it harbored miracles. It was never easy for her, but she stuck it out as long as she could with as much joy as she could. And when she couldn’t, just before dying, just because she couldn’t take a breath on this earth without loving, she made one last phone call so her kid sister could get some sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

the gifts that live

Today would have been our silver. Twenty-five years ago, Chris and I got hitched at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Washington, Conn., a pretty stone church that my mother liked to call Our Lady of Perpetual Motion.

Three priests presided. Music was provided by one violinist (my mom), one trumpet player, two organists and a gospel choir. A friend snapped photos. My brother-in-law ferried us in Chris’s old Corolla to the reception, which was held in a church basement down the road that we rented for 60 bucks. The meal was pot luck. I’m not kidding. Pot luck. For entertainment, a buddy of ours played guitar. Stout-hearted friends took control of the kitchen, and washed, and washed, and washed.

I think of that day and wonder how we did it. How we managed to fall in love so wildly, so quickly, with such conviction. Four months after our first date, we got engaged. Again I’m not kidding. Four months. Six months after that, we were married. Who does that? How did we know it would stick?

I think of that day and marvel that Chris and I were ever so young. That so many now gone were still alive: my parents, Chris’s parents, my sister Lucy, my best friend Pam. And Chris! How alive he was. How his heart rumbled inside his chest. The man stood so straight he almost fell backward. He hugged me so hard I almost cracked. He smiled with his mouth, his eyes, his whole sturdy person, rocking on his heels with the rhythm of delight.

I think of that day and swell with gratitude. Chris gave me so much. He gives me so much still, his gifts growing with love long past his death. He gave me our three beautiful children. His dear, kind sisters and brothers, their husbands and wives. My three fine nephews. My new great-niece, an angel born three weeks ago.

Chris gave me my home: Had I not married a reporter for the Times Union, I wouldn’t have moved to Albany. He gave me all of my life here. All of my friends and coworkers. All of my neighbors. He gave me the Adirondacks. Camping. Stewart’s Ice Cream. Downhill skiing, which I would never have tried without him.

He gave me the lingering effects of his green thumb. The apple tree at the front of my house. The gardens, front and back. The spider plants, upstairs and down.FullSizeRender

Most of all, he gave me his love and all its light. That lingers, too. He gave me faith in the long-term bond between two people. He gave me an understanding of love as a deep, enduring and sacramental fact, as a truth forged together but greater than the both of us, as something worth fighting for every minute — because the minutes, if we honored them properly, could amass into decades.

And so they did. Twenty years I had with my good, strong, loving, constant husband, a brilliant man whose giant heart roared with the joy of living. He died, but his gift goes on forever.

handy

hand

I had a little epiphany the other day. Someone was chit-chatting casually with my son, and in the course of this casual chit-chat asked him if Mom was “handy.” He confirmed that indeed Mom is.  When I heard this, I was tickled pink. I was BEYOND tickled pink. I was tickled rose sunsets and bubblegum-flamingos-in-pointe-shoes. I was tickled despite the fact that my late husband, who had worked in carpentry and construction for many years before switching to journalism, HATED HATED HATED the word “handy,” considering it an infantile reduction of his skills.

But I don’t deceive myself. I have no skills. When it comes to repairing things, jury-rigging things, piecing things together and persuading things to fit and function inside my house, I am exercising neither art nor aptitude. Instead I am exercising my inborn propensity for Repairman Avoidance. I am being the stubborn white-haired lady who might not believe she can fix a damn thing but is damn well going to try, anyway.

When the basement trap clogged and overflowed with toilet unmentionables, and I couldn’t reach the Sewage Dude immediately, I went down with a shovel and started to dig out. It was late at night, and it was disgusting. But you know what? As I shoveled and gagged and shoveled and gagged and shoveled and gagged and gagged, I felt a crazed pride welling within me, as in: Yee-haw! I am one sick motha! I can shovel shit! Yes, I can!

The next day, Sewage Dude arrived. Standing by as his finished the job, I engaged him in casual chit-chat.

Me: Soooooo. . . ummm. . . when my husband died, I wrote a book about it afterward called Figuring Shit Out.

Sewage Dude: Really.

Me: Yeah. And this would have been a great chapter.

(Sewage Dude laughs.)

Afterward, it occurred to me that shoveling shit was something my mother would have done — and might have done, for all I know. I think a lot about Mama, a tough, wise, loving lady whose stick-to-it-iveness carried the family after Daddy lost his short-term memory. Exercising her own inborn propensity for Repairman Avoidance, she fixed furniture, plumbing, windows. She painted the downstairs. She built a shower upstairs. When the cushions died, she took apart the living-room sofa and rebuilt it as a simple wood settee. She repaired hings, jury-rigged things, pieced things together and persuaded things to fit and function inside her  house.

I’d always admired this about her, but I’d always assumed her handiness was innate, not acquired. I assumed it was something she’d brought to her marriage that I didn’t bring to mine. But when my son called me handy, the revelation finally hit me: I was just like Mama! Mama was just like me! She hadn’t started out with a hammer in one small fist and a paint can in the other. Life had turned her into a jury-rigger and handy-woman, a stubborn white-haired lady who did what she could to patch things together. She she became what she needed to become. She fixed what broke. She figured shit out, and showed me the way.

 

 

 

that word again

baby fistI’ve been thinking about love in the last few days, itching and twitching with excitement as I awaited the arrival of a new and blessed human into the clan. She finally came, this great niece of mine with her mop of hair and splendid howling maw, and she’s perfect. She’s gorgeous, of course, but that’s not what I mean. I mean she’s perfect in the way that all babies are perfect, as an emblem and ambassador of all that we long for in this life.

She isn’t merely loved. She’s love embodied. I haven’t had a chance to meet her yet and hold her in my arms, but I already love her and know her as love. I already know that she’s a gift, not just to her parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and great uncles and great aunts and cousins, but to the world. To everyone else. To all of us here, groping through the everyday with faith that it will lead us somewhere with light and meaning.

Love is a verb and an abstract noun. But it’s also a substance, a thing made tangible and real by living, touching and giving of one another — a thing that sparks to life in the arms of our beloved and grows with each new embrace. We rock our babies, and they become toddlers. We kiss our toddlers, and they become schoolchildren. We hug our schoolchildren, and they go on to high school, then college, then jobs, then marriage, then children and grandchildren of their own, making yet more love out of yet more love in an endless, fractal branching of fertility and hope.

My own three babies, no longer small, are the proof and stuff of love. So was my late husband, this new little girl’s Great Uncle Chris, who made our children with me. So was my late sister Lucy, whose death prompted us to have kids sooner than we’d planned. So are all we love who leave too soon, who cease to be present in this world but never cease to be real, because love never ceases to be real. How could it?

This is the lesson in every baby: that nothing, nothing, nothing is more real than love. Not time. Not loss and pain. Not life itself. That first holy moment cradling a child lasts forever. It is forever. People call parental love unconditional, but it’s more than love without condition; it’s love without end. All love is. All babies are, this one included. She’s love, and she’s loved. And all is right with the world.

the voice i need

FullSizeRender

Every now and then, when I’m desperate to hear the voice of someone who knows me and loves me enough to give me the shit I so desperately need, I call my brother Danny. And he swears at me.

He provided this service earlier this week. I was navel-gazing and perseverating in THE worst possible way, fretting over various Conversations with various People who said various Things expressing various forms of Dissatisfaction and passing various forms of Judgment on me that, okay, I shouldn’t have internalized, because I  knew deep down that these same Things were fundamentally and unequivocally Wrong. But I’m fundamentally and unequivocally human, so I internalized every last Thing and filed it away for safekeeping. The other day, I retrieved those Things. I replayed them in my tired little brain, then shrugged into a hairshirt and started beating myself with a stick, preparing for A) A life of misery and loneliness; B) Byzantine sainthood; or C) Both, and doesn’t that sound like fun!

I was in the throes of such self-flagellation when it hit me: I’d better call Danny so he can tell me to shut the eff up. And I did. I called him. He answered, bless his soul. I gave him the low-down on the Things I had internalized, on my overwrought psyche and on my subsequent plan to remove myself to a cave in the desert of Osrhoene for a life of ascetic reflection and self-denial. It’ll be great! I’ll take a vow of silence and live on beetles!, I told him, or something along those lines. And Danny, interrupting me, said:

“NOW WAY! EFF YOU, AMES! NO! NO! NO! NO WAY! NO!”

Then he said it again.

“NO! NO! EFF YOU, AMY! NO WAY! NO WAY! NO! NO! NO! NO!”

And again.

“NO WAY! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! EFF YOU! NO!”

At this point, I was laughing so hard I could barely hear him, but he kept going.

“NO! NO! NO! NO WAY! NO! EFF YOU, AMY! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! EFF YOU! EFF YOU! NO! NO WAY!”

And so on. He kept yelling at me. I kept laughing. By the end of this loving tirade I was shedding tears of joy and relief, because my brother had said exactly what I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it. He then went on to say more things I needed to hear, compassionate things, insightful things, uplifting and affirming things, things so different from the Things I’d heard before and have had such a hard time forgetting.  I thanked him for that, and for making me laugh.

What struck me, both in the midst of this conversation and in the days afterward, was just how necessary it is — for all of us, in this beautiful mess of a world — to have people in our lives who’ll yell at us when we most need it. We need people to shake us from our funks and give us shit. We need voices noisy enough to shout us down with love. I have those voices in my life, the voices of relatives and friends who’ll say what has to be said and say it with frankness and force. I know where to turn for what I need. The other day, I needed EFF YOUs and NO NO NO NO NOs, so I turned to Danny. He gave me the love I needed, and it was loud as hell. Thank you, brother.

Barry Manilow, meet my sister Betsy


Barry, meet your biggest fan: my sister Betsy. She’s developmentally disabled, but there is nothing incomplete about her. She is beautiful and wise and whole, full of insight and joy, compassion for all and passion for all that she loves: her family; butterflies; the color purple; jigsaw puzzles; word searches; rocks; animals; nature shows; and you, you, you.

She first fell in love with you at age 6, maybe 7. It might have been “Could It Be Magic.” Whatever the song, “I fell in love with him and became his fan immediately.” Aside from owning, and memorizing, every CD you ever recorded, she has books, posters, photos, you name it.

I asked her what she loves so much about her Barry. Her reply:

“I like the way he sings, and I think he is handsome. I like everything about him. I like his eyes, nose, and hair. I like the way he dresses — very fancy clothes. I love the way he plays piano. I like it when he sings with the piano, and when he does not. . . . His music makes me happy and cheers me up when I am sad. I think he is sexy—I was disappointed when he got married, as I dreamed he would marry me.”

If you want to know just how happy you make her, watch the video.

Betsy is 49 and works at a bakery. She hasn’t been my sister the whole time (I’m a latecomer to the family), but I could not love her more. I could not admire her more. Betsy is the person I want to be: caring, honest, accepting, warm, with a delight in everyday pleasures and a willingness to take things as they come. She has a shy smile, a gutsy laugh and a great sense of humor.

In short, you need to know her. Why?

1) It would make her life.
2) It would make her life.
3) Everyone should know Betsy. She’s one of the sweetest, dearest, kindest, purest souls to ever walk the earth. To be with her is to be happy, because her loving nature and joy in living are both infectious.
4) It would make her life.

“I do love him to death, for sure,” she told me, adding: “I would like to meet Barry Manilow, if you can do that, Amy.”

So Barry, meet Betsy. If this finds you – if enough people share this, snagging your attention – then please contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with her.

You won’t regret it, I promise. It would make your life, too.

 

time to love

My younger daughter turned 20 in Australia today. Tomorrow she turns 20 here, which, as she pointed out to me at 9:30 this morning (or around 1:30 tomorrow morning her time), is the more accurate marker. But it’s Valentine’s Day in Sydney right now, which means my middle child has just escaped her teens by some reckoning or other. How beautiful and strange. But isn’t that life? And isn’t that love? mama and daddy older

I learned about love from my parents. I’ve written before about my mother’s commitment to my father, whose many years of dementia — probably brain damage — following his suicide attempt in 1974 meant that he wasn’t all there. No short-term memory, no way to help support the family, nothing to give besides his innate loving-kindness and his beaming, charming warmth. He was a loving presence, and that was it. That’s all he had. That’s all Mama required of him. She accepted it, and gave her love back with fidelity and strength.

I learned about love from my sister, who loved with all of her being. As broken as she was, as tortured by the unremitting urge to kill herself, she beamed a light around her that splashed and awakened joy. Anything she had to give, she gave. Everything she could reveal, she did. She was transparent in her compassion, and in her pain. It was all there, all out in the open, all part of who she was and how she hurt and loved. Nothing was hidden by her, or from her; she saw all. She saw inside my own brokenness and loved me, accepted me, still.

I learned from Lucy that love can’t fix anyone. All it can do is accept and give. We love not despite our brokenness, but because of it, — because we’re all broken, because we all wish we weren’t, because we all long to warm and be warmed, hold and be held. Because we have no other choice. Until we reach perfection in this life — and when will that be? — we need to make peace with each other, and ourselves.

I learned about love from my three children, who showed me why I’m alive. Giving birth means satisfying, finally, the age-old quest for meaning in this world: I no longer wonder why I was put here. It’s obvious. To bring them into being. To love them into adults. To help them as they grow. Brokenness, mine or theirs, is moot in the face of such a mission. Parental love is a window into God’s love, for it’s love without judgment, condition, fear of divorce or demand for reciprocity.

I learned about love from my late husband — who gave and gave and loved and loved until his brokenness stopped him — and from all who’ve blessed my life, friends, family, beloveds in every sense, everyone who’s entered my orbit and filled it with their gifts and their loving, broken selves. I haven’t met anyone yet who isn’t broken somehow. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love regardless.

We all are. We all do. It’s Valentine’s Day in Australia. Love.

flying

So today I put my younger daughter onto yet another plane for yet another great adventure — this one half-way around the world. We said goodbye at security, hugging, hugging, hugging, then hugged once more before she handed her passport and boarding pass to the agent. Then she slowly progressed through security, turning and waving, turning and waving, turning and waving. I worked hard not to break down in tears, and I succeeded.

I’ve written before about the durable, flexible umbilical cord that links me forever to my children. It’s a bond I can barely understand, much less describe. Right now, that red, ropy tether is stretched somewhere over the Pacific. I know it won’t snap. It’s made of tough stuff, supple and stubborn as it was when it fed her in the womb. My womb. The nest that hatched three children — weird, when you think about it — and dropped them into the world. Plop! Plop! Plop! A soft landing for each of them, straight into those striped white swaddling blankets found in every hospital.

I look at them now with wonder and gratitude: wonder that I had something to do with them; gratitude to God, their late dad and the mystical happenstance of timing for bringing them into my life. Had they been conceived one second earlier or one second later, they’d be different people: that, too, is weird when you think about it. Weirder still when I remind myself, as I often do, that my sister’s suicide in 1992 first inspired me to get pregnant. If she hadn’t died, Chris and I might have postponed baby-making for another couple years, and who knows which babies might have popped out then? Weird weird weird. When it happened, and she downed all those pills in her bedroom, I was clobbered by grief and confused by a universe that would snatch such a loving soul so soon. I wanted to fill it with another. It was that simple. I wanted someone new to love, some new life to cherish in the contorted face of death. This was a primal urge: procreate, woman! How better to shake my fist at the reaper than to usher in new life?plane view

And so I did, and there they are: my three enduring gifts. Some days, at my lowest, I wonder if I’m serving God as I’m supposed to, if I’m living and loving as I’m called to. I wonder about my failures as a human being, my woundedness, the way I strive but stumble through this world. I am not perfect. I try and fail, I love and lose, I grapple with my own pain in ways that end up hurting others. But when I look at my beautiful children, and I remember their beautiful father — so strong and passionate and compassionate and constant and loving and giving and good — I realize I did something right. Or something right happened to me.

Waving goodbye to my intrepid middle kid this morning, I said thanks to God and the whims of fate that timed my children perfectly. They are my three miracles. I’m grateful for them, and for everyone else I’ve been blessed to love in this world. For love has its own logic. Love has its own laws. At this moment, my love defies gravity and carries my daughter across the ocean to the vast unknown. I’m with her and I’m here, I’m earthbound and I’m flying, I’m nervous and I’m joyous all the same. Weird.