I simply cannot believe I have not written to you since January. I will put on my afternoon dress, dip the quill into the inkwell, as I smooth the parchment, and see where we go.
I started a lovely new job in early spring. I am delighted to be back with a population I am so passionate about, unaccompanied minors. In this iteration we work in the house where the children live, there are no foster parents. Today I reflected, after I stopped in to chat with the manager of the house, and enjoyed a piece of watermelon, “sandia”. He talked about having only daughters himself, his experiences beginning in shelters like Homestead in Florida, to kids who have come directly across the border, strapping little ones into car seats to be sent back to their country of origin, hand and foot cuffing very young children. How it hits different when they could be your kids.
As he spoke his eyes filled with tears and I was able to see, for a moment, another side of him. And I admit to being glad that these are not children who hold up their arms to be held, who need me to comfort them when they cry or change their diapers. Teenaged boys are not five year old little girls. These boys are capable of managing themselves, they seem to know what to say. They are, largely, adults, or at least they were until they came here and we made them schoolboys again.
Yes, I am grateful to be working again with these kids and with people who are so passionate about them. I am still working on my Spanish. I probably seem a little a crazy to anyone who visits my often not occupied desk, with my little post it notes of the names of the animals we see outside our office window, ardilla, raton, conejo, cierva.
I am currently auditing a course at Bexley Seabury named Pastoral Offices. I have turned in my homework and commented appropriately. I have been assigned group work too. Though we got a little bogged down in our zoom call last night with baptism and confirmation, we are talking about all of the rites, many of which lay people can do. A woman I can see being great friends with said that babies belong before they know they do. Our professor said that if we listen very deeply we will know what to pray for even if we don’t have a prescribed collect. Add this to a fruitful meeting with a CPE site and a new field placement and I am fairly burning my way through the woods toward you.
We have had our share of sadness too.
Last weekend we stayed at a cottage in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our cottage was amazing, rustic and yet equipped, on the shores of Big Manistique lake, it literally lapped at our deck. A little boy with another party threw a rock at a duck, and he hit a duckling square in the head. Apparently he’d been there all week. Apparently this wasn’t the first time he’d been told not to throw rocks at the ducks. The bathroom floor sloped and the shower was very small, but the curtains were new.
For whatever reason he didn’t listen. This little duck went sideways and turned circles in the water, his head underneath. My sisters (all three nurses) leaped in and grabbed him, wrapped him in a towel, fashioned a cervical brace from an empty toilet paper roll, offered him oats and water. All day long they held him, and my oldest daughter, and my dad. And none of it was enough. By 4pm we were praying for God to take the little duck. The girls played him lullabies and stroked his beak and back on my daughter’s bed when he seemed to have gone into a type of coma. At about 11pm they processed solemnly, breaking into sobs when they told us the duckling was dead. They held him in a little silver tote, wrapped in a towel that had come from my house hundreds of miles away. They sat him down and didn’t know what to do. They had named him Curtis of Curtistown. They put daisies in the cervical collar.
None of us knew what to do, to be fair.
My dad shared that earlier in the day, how, when he’d held the duck to his chest its siblings had swum by, making their little duck not quite a quack sounds. The little duck had struggled against his chest, kicking its legs and opening its mouth. I’d found a collect, though not the one I wanted, and I said, authoritatively, into the campfire lit dark, as the lake lapped just feet away, The Lord be with you. They replied, as they have been trained to do, even with me, and also with you.
We gathered close around the fire, on the shores of a beautiful lake, tears running down our faces and I said the words of the collect. We commended little duck, Curtis, to God, a creature that had never been ours, but that we had had the (dubious) pleasure of caring for. We went to bed rather early, all of us tired and full of grief.
I think that I learned that I won’t ever be ready. I learned that every family is different, if the family even exists. I learned that I can plan in advance a collect and say it without crying. I learned that we can’t plan for the types of grief we will encounter.
I would also like to share, in a necessarily oblique way, that a very terrible thing has happened in our family. We are all physically ok, but quite sad and betrayed. Someone we thought was one of us, someone we thought we could trust has turned out to be not at all what he said he was. That has resulted in trans Atlantic moves, the selling of houses, the leavings of people and jobs and habits and regular grocery stores. It has resulted in one of my children going a bit dead about the eyes, as if she always expected such, and not saying another word. And one admitting that she needed to cry, that it was as if someone had died because she knows she will never see or hear from him again and she needs to sort out what do with that.
I’m not sure where the offender is, or if he subscribes to this blog. But I do know he’s set on a new apartment and a new girlfriend, comfortable, apparently, with infidelity. And so I wonder, as so many have at the short end of a betrayal, who I ever was. Who my children were. I wonder about the memories that we made and the nicknames and the experiences. I wonder about giant white wolf dogs and large yellow dogs, both dead, and I wonder if any of it was true. I wonder about my 10 day old child in his arms and then him walking away from her, 12 years later. I wonder about that house, with the view over the valley and the train station, the too small room I shared with my sister, using the antique radio for a makeup table. I wonder about begging to drive but he wouldn’t let me, and the GPS he called Kinky Kate, that time Kate led us through a cow pasture where we literally were driving on someone’s field and had to get out and open the cow gate. I wonder about the Isle of Skye and didn’t you feel anything at York Minster? Or St. Paul’s, where I held you up on your sightseeing tour to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday when I didn’t even know that was important to me?
To be clear; this is not my husband, but another person that existed within my family unit.
And so, with pastoral offices, and dead ducks, and men who walk out on families I am faced with a very CPE choice of where to go, and what to say.
And I just don’t know.
I want to breathe hope and healing into everything that has happened, but I’ve learned that sometimes people aren’t ready for hope, and they don’t want to be healed, not yet anyway.
This week I stopped in, for a very legitimate reason, at my home parish. I can’t stand the sight of my drawer full of English tea towels, souvenirs and air mail packages. I’ve packed them into a hope chest my sister gave to my oldest daughter. My friend had purchased several, a whole new set really, of kitchen towels and I was picking them up; watermelons and lemons, cats and flowers. I heard the unmistakable swell of the organ, I walked swiftly up the side aisle of the dimly lit nave, breathing in the familiar smells. I waited until the hymn he was practicing was done and I said, softly, bravo. He started and beamed, me and him, here in our place. 80 something and 40 something, I have never loved him so much.
I thought about the men I have loved on my drive home. Courageous and wonderful and flawed men. I gave thanks that only until now had none of them left me like this, wondering what, if anything had been true.
I thought of little duck, Curtis, and the funeral rite, “and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.” I thought how comforting it would be to little duck to behold a friend. I thought how someday I too might behold a friend and not someone who has become a stranger because he has betrayed us.
I thought about redemption and what that means. I thought about the little boy with the rock. I wondered if he can be redeemed too.
Sometimes I am the little boy with the rock. Sometimes I am the betrayer. There is nothing perfect in me.
Except for the urging to walk with you. That is the small and painful part God would choose to refine, an ache that does not go away. An ache to obey a weird and expensive and inconvenient call to love you anyway, to love you despite the moments when you threw a rock at someone or something who was helpless, and it died.
I guess my point is to agree that the moral arc of the universe is long but that it bends toward justice. My point is that someday I long to walk toward one who is the friend I thought and not the stranger who has appeared. My point is that if I can say a collect for dead duckling my child and my sisters have nursed with all their might I can certainly sit with you, at the end of all things.
Though it is not the same. Though it is raw grief.
I love you still. I am burning up the forest looking for you. I am calling and chanting and singing, whistling when my embouchure will obey. I will do whatever it takes to reach you and to bring you back safe with me to our shady tent, on its brief stop over, its give-way, on the way to something else, to where we are truly meant to be. Together.
The Isle of Skye and York cathedral beckon. But I am yours, first. I promise.