My eyes opened and adjusted to the morning light. I glanced up at the alarm clock. It read 6:46. This was good news. I had about 14 minutes left to rest. I turned and pulled the covers over my head, burying my face deep into the warmth of the pillow. The minutes ticked by and I slowly and begrudgingly woke to the day. I could hear the boys playing legos together in Josh’s room. No arguing at the moment. I slapped my hand across the space next to me and felt that Drew’s side of the bed was empty. I knew he was already up and was on the treadmill in the basement. He was getting his miles in before work. There was no noise from Abbey’s room down the long hallway. I would need to turn on her flowery ceiling light and nudge her awake soon. My body was still heavy with sleep. We were on the edge of another busy day.
These are all typical morning events at our house.
In the next hour and a half we prepared for the school day. Showers done, breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, backpacks organized, lunches packed, fights broken up, money for after school activities tucked into pockets, shoe laces tied, jackets on, and minivan loaded with everything they needed for this day. Then it was off to school. I drove them the mile there and then drove that same mile, quietly home. Just like every other morning.
When I got back to the house after dropping the three kids off, I skim Facebook, check my email, put away the left over breakfast dishes, pile up loose papers on the counter and start getting ready for my morning run. Then, out of nowhere, my cell phone rings.
It rarely rings in this age of texting. Now this morning is not so typical anymore.
I look down at the phone and see my friend’s husband’s name flashing on the screen. He and his wife are our best friends. I can’t remember the last time he called me. As much as I dislike the phone, I answer, feeling nervous. When something is out of the ordinary, our senses are heightened. We are waiting for something. We are never expecting these phone calls but when they come, we recognize them. My gut is telling me this is one of those. I greet him with a hello and he says hi. I ask how he is and he says he is ok. I know this isn’t true. I can tell by his voice that he is not. His next words are carefully chosen and heavy with sadness. He may or may not have physical tears but his words are full of them. He tells me he has just got off the phone with his wife. She got her mammogram results back. From there, his voice begins to fade away. I know he is telling me more, but I only hear the centers of his sentences.
Results back… Found something… They are concerned… More testing… Worried….
I mumble something back. I assure him I will call her soon. So glad he called to tell me. Our conversation is fading, fading, and then he is gone.
And now my morning, my day, my week, my everything has taken a sharp turn. Everything changed in that one moment. We rarely get eased into these things. One minute we are finishing our monotonous morning duties and the next, life is hanging in the balance. Why must it happen this way?
I know I need to quickly get in touch with my dear friend who is in a place of anxious waiting. Just like her husband had put down the phone after hearing from his wife and called me, I hit the number for Drew. I’m hoping to spill out my fear before I pick up the phone to connect with her. I need him to know. I need his day to turn upside down with mine. It already has, he just doesn’t know it yet. The phone calls begin.
There is only news that something is wrong, there are no answers. But the reality is that we have walked this road before and we are aware of the very real devastation these kinds of phone calls bring. The possible becomes the maybe. The maybe becomes the concern. The concern becomes something. The something becomes bad news. The bad news changes everything. The everything changes us, forever.
Just two years ago, Drew gave me such a wonderful birthday surprise. He had planned a girls weekend for me and a dear friend, Dalina. On the schedule were a few days to get away, walk the brick pathway of Inner Harbor, Baltimore, drink coffee, sleep in, eat desserts, talk, talk, talk and talk. It was the best gift I had ever received. I remember laying in the hotel bed with Dalina that weekend, so aware of the cancer that had a death grip on her gut. We were both so aware of the limitations it had put on our weekend. So aware that this kind of getaway may never happen again for us. And it didn’t. Soon after the birthday weekend, cancer went batty on her body and stole everything. It raged until she had nothing left. Cancer took her life, even while she was still breathing. And then one day, we gathered around her bed and said goodbye. We knew things were bad on that birthday weekend. We had no idea how bad they really were. There was little time left.
So, I had done this before. I had watched as nothing became everything until we had to let go. My insides churned and I refused to let my mind go too far. I wasn’t in denial, I just wasn’t going to go there unless I had to. With friend, we will do this one day at a time. So now I must get on with this turned upside-down, inside- out day. The daily stuff must still get done. There is work to do, despite the fear that has taken residence in my heart. I get dressed for my training run and do the track sprints I have scheduled for this day. I go ahead with the plan and gather things together to take to the retreat house where I will write. Onward. Of course all my fears will be coming wherever I travel today, but I cannot keep still. When I put down my bag, take off my jacket and plop down into my writing seat at the retreat house, all I want to do is be still and sit close to the fire that was prepared in anticipation of my arrival. I want to be warm. I want to feel safe. I want to find a place of inner calm.
I remember when Dalina died, a string of hard life events had already been happening around us. The general feeling was the desperate question of when it would all end. When would the hard stuff stop coming? Was there a place we reached where we were guaranteed a reprieve from the suffering of the world? The suffering of our loved ones? It seemed like there must be a place like that. We longed for a place where we could arrive and put our feet on solid, secure ground.
That was then. Now, I know better. There is no place we arrive where we get a guarantee of a life free from loss. Loss is part of every life. It will never be easy. There will always be a time to let go. We weren’t just getting through this string of events. This was one event. It is called real life. We only have one. The difference, I was realizing, is how we choose to live it. Full of fear or full of faith? Every day it is a choice.
Who knows when that next phone call will come. I don’t. No one does. It may come tomorrow with more of my friend’s test results. Maybe the next call will come from one of my kid’s teachers. The phone could ring and it could be a relative, a friend, a police officer, a chaplain, or a neighbor. I just know, the phone will ring again.
My task, our task, is to live life in the waiting. In all these in between places it is up to us to enter fully in whatever is happening in and around us. When I pick up my kids at the bus stop or drive them to a sports practice, I will live there. When I prepare our dinner and wash the dishes, I will live there. When we tuck the kids in bed and settle down together on the couch, we will live there. When we argue about our next days plans and then make up with apologies, we will live there. When we brush our teeth and crawl into bed, we live and rest right there. And then, when the morning light comes, I will open my eyes to a new day of life. It may start just like every other day, but who knows what will unfold. We just know that we are living, right here.
Be here. Live here. Make it count. Make it all count. Whether it is sweeping the floor or paying the bills, it counts. There is no arrival to a place of security, there is only here. Now is the miracle. It is in the ordinary days. It is in the days turned upside down.
Take it all in.
(Our dear friends something turned out to be nothing of concern. We are so grateful.)