Being Fully Invested Is the Best Choice
Cody, age 6. Me, age 29.
The summer sun is warming the deck we are sitting on. The condensation from our glasses forms pools of water on the glass tabletop. I sip my iced tea and wipe my damp hand on my shorts. Grandma and Grandpa are talking about work and you are poking a stick in between the deck boards. You look at me and sigh. It is hot and you are bored. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa can be tough for a six-year-old. You don’t want to sit and listen to us talk and you are tired of watching the few kids movies they have.
“Hey Cody, why don’t you play catch with the dog for a few minutes?” I suggest.
You grab a ball to play fetch with our dog Dusty and head down the gravel laneway to play. I watch you throw the ball a few times and then Dusty lies down in the shade, refusing to retrieve it in the hot sun. You play catch with yourself and I turn away. I need to go to the bathroom.
I come back and see that Dad and Grandma and Grandpa are around the side of the house looking at something in the garden. I scan the lane for you and I don’t see you playing there anymore.
“Hey Schaene, where’s Cody?” I ask, trying to sound calm.
“He’s playing ball with the dog,” he says and turns to look where you should have been.
The lane ends in a swale. It is a tall-grassed swampy section of land between a few farms. The grass is taller than you. I run down the gravel laneway and look behind the garage on my way. You are nowhere to be seen. I stand at the edge of the swale and yell your name but the wind is rustling through the grass making my voice fade into nothingness.
There is a wind coursing through me too. I am filled with images of you knee deep in mud struggling to free yourself. I see you fall forward into some water and thrash to breathe. You cannot swim yet. Why haven’t we taught you to swim? I imagine the search party we will have to assemble. I imagine the darkness coming and your little chin quivering as the night closes in and you get cold. I am being buffeted around by the gales of thoughts and I can’t get my bearings. Dad, Grandpa, and Grandma all come to the edge of the swale to look for you too. Dad heads into the swale. There is more yelling and more stomping around in the grass and mud. Minutes pass. I think terrible thoughts: “I knew I should not have loved you with my whole heart. I should have closed myself off more so the pain of loss would not be so great. I cannot lose you. This is not happening.”
And then I see it: a ball being thrown up into the air again and again from the middle of the swamp. You are showing us where you are. You bright boy. You smart boy. You alive boy. And in that moment I unbox my heart again, but a little piece stays hidden inside. It is safer in there. I cannot expose all of me to this danger. I cannot be all in. This love is unsafe. I am only asking for loss, and heartbreak, and grief.
You come out of the swamp with mud up to your knees and a wide grin.
“Cody, you need to tell us where you are going. You can’t be going into the swamp alone,” I bark at you.
“I was just on an adventure, Mom,” you reply innocently.
I wrap my arms around you and think about the possible loss. You are only six. How many more times will there be when I might lose you? Can I love you “all in” or should I withhold some of me? You childhood is already passing so fast, but I don’t know if I can withstand the daily fears of you out in this dangerous world. When I am boxed up, I miss things. The fear of letting go or losing you makes me not want to love you with my whole heart.
And yet, isn’t that the whole point? To have the deepest, most loving, and most vibrant relationships, despite the possibility of loss? If I don’t open my heart fully to you, how can you learn to love fully? I don’t want to end up at the end of my life realizing that love is all life is anyway. But it is hard. As my parents are aging, I am finding myself resistant to visiting, resistant to sharing long phone calls with them, and resistant to fully investing myself in them. I know they will leave me, and the closer I am to them, the more difficult the goodbye will be. But what do I have in this life but these feelings?
Even in those relationships that I know will not be long or fruitful, I must bring my whole self to them and bring love to them. It colours in the spaces and brings life to the moments. It raises my spirits and brings comfort to others. It is my real work on this planet and I should not shy away from it, for it is the only thing that will sustain me. I just pray I don’t lose you because I don’t know if I could bear it.