Sometimes this time of year makes me a little weepy. And it’s often related to hearing music. No, not the silly stuff from the radio that I like to torture the family with, but the music that captures something haunting and quiet and dark and lonely (e.g. the Huron Carol and Balulalow). One time I was hugging a friend after the winter school assembly and I just burst into tears.Here’s a story, something that I was told. There was once a group of 6th graders, in early December. A teacher, not their class teacher, asked a little flippantly, “None of you still believe in _______[insert your choice of childhood mythical figure], right?” The class became still except for the one child who fled the room in tears. There were most likely others still holding onto the magic, even though they knew or suspected. I remember pretending to believe because I didn’t really know how to make it known that I didn’t. I remember feeling a little embarrassed that I did know, but that they didn’t know I knew. But in this class, they were all fiercely protective of each other’s belief. And how lucky to hold onto that innocence for so long! But also, how lucky to be held in such a caring and protective group of peers.The teacher left the room to go after the child. And soon, another adult came in. He asked what was going on in the silent room. Jonas answered: “Something terrible has happened.”That night our family attended a beautiful holiday concert: candlelit, in a church, with 16 extremely talented high school chamber singers. I remember that we were not sitting in our usual area of the church (back left), but up in the front right that year. Most years I usually find some water leaking out of my eyes during this concert; it just happens. On those terrible wooden pews, too narrow for anyone’s adult-sized bottom, with our two boys leaning in, listening to those voices in the glow of the candles, I was aware of the moment. Jonas was not still a believer, though he hadn’t admitted it yet. That day a threshold had been crossed.But it wasn’t the obvious loss of innocence that moved me that night. It was what happened after, when Jonas stepped forward to speak for the group: stepping into a role, assessing the ramifications of what had happened immediately, and then responding. Hearing about this gesture broke my heart open a little bit because it was about growing up and also into something new.The same sense he had when I spotted the rat’s tail hanging out of a crack in the ceiling in our old house. He and Mr. Crafty were on the couch, reading. And I was about to head to bed when I saw the long pink tail hanging down like the most horrible mistletoe you ever saw, a pink shoelace. Right in front of me. “This is my worst nightmare happening right now,” I whispered to them. They both looked up, took in my scream-whisper and my freaked-out attention on the pink tail. Jonas got up immediately and steered me by the elbow, hustling me out of the room, and back into the safety of the kitchen, “Come on, Mom, let’s go. Dad will take care of it.” Mr. Crafty got up to figure out what the heck to do. Both of them proved their heroism that night, but in Jonas it was something new, and again, a very quick sort of assessment and responsive action, with a fierce protectiveness. (Mr. Crafty, of course, is my longtime hero, proven many times in our long association.)Sometimes the growing happens right in front of our eyes.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mistakes and accidents lately. These unexpected events that happen all of our lives, wild cards of chance or fate or karma or just one moment of our own inattention or thoughtlessness. Ugh. They’ll just keep happening to us, like change, until we’re dead. I’ve had my share.
In those moments, just after the thing occurs, there’s the shock of it: “Hold on! Wait! Time out!!! Just seconds ago, I was going about my life! I had plans for this day that were not about calling insurance agencies! Or sweeping up the pile of spilled salt in the hectic middle of the making a stir-fry!”
But these are the easy ones, right? The mistakes and accidents remedied with phone calls or a dustpan are the ones that are inconvenient, but fixable with time and patience for banalities. (For the phone calls, pro-tip: have your knitting handy for all that time spent on hold.)But the ones that are the hardest are when I know that my mistake has hurt another person. There’s shame and embarrassment, disappointment in myself, and the physical response for me is sort of a clenching in my heart. It literally takes my breath away. As a person who prides myself on attending to details, thinking of others, anticipating what will be needed, and sometimes verging into perfectionism, it can be hard to forgive myself. Because it would be one thing if I was mostly oblivious all the time, but I try very hard to pay attention.
But not always. In that awful moment when we are feeling the clenching heart and the waves of shame, we have an opportunity to be present with our own darkness (like Brené Brown describes in her new book Rising Strong), a choice to be there for ourselves at our worst, even before we get back into our head and figure out what to do next. Brown suggests articulating your inner monologue, prefacing it with the story I’m telling myself right now, for example: “The story I’m telling myself right now is that everyone will be disappointed in me.” Because if I frame it like that, I have the option to consider that it might not be totally the truth. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves sound really silly/crazy/ridiculous when we speak them out loud.Family portraits will be coming in the mailbox soon for the holidays. I treasure them! I love looking at the babies growing up, the teenagers trying out their new noses for 2015, the choice of outfits (matching? not?), the way the resemblances to parents and siblings come and go. But look at some of these holiday photo outtakes in this post. They’re not polished perfection for a postcard (ugh, orange shirt), instead they are a portrait of the 99% of who these brothers are with each other: silly, goofy, teasing, enduring, annoying, annoyed, and yes, finally, and always, loving.