I have started the new year off with a really nasty head cold. Spent most of yesterday holed up in bed, trying not to cough on everyone (particularly the children who have just recovered from a three-week bout of RSV). Beanie, courting danger, slipped into the room every forty-five minutes “for a quick cuddle” and to show me the evidence of her own new year’s mishaps: her pink Sculpey kitty here and its two front legs there; a necklace whose pendant has gone missing; a black eye.
I heard the latter accident happen; probably a good many of our neighbors heard it too. Squealing laughter (Bean), a mock roar (Rose), pounding feet (both), a sudden terrible thump (the train table), a pitiful wail (Bean again), and then a series of increasingly distressed sound bites from Scott. “Oh, God. Oh, honey! Oh, no, no…”
In my tissue-padded haze, I feared the worst: a head split open, another emergency-room rush. Scott heard me on the stairs and ordered me back up lest Wonderboy spy me and add his protests to the din. Torture, to stay away; but I was reassured that, whatever had happened, at least her skull must be intact. Surely he would have needed me if there were vast quantities of blood (or worse) involved, right?
Shortly afterward my door creaked open and the accident victim crept in, sporting a giant purple bruise on her right eye. Beanie recklessly entered the germ zone and climbed into bed beside me. “Daddy says it’s going to be ugly tomorrow,” she said proudly. “I think I need a tissue too.”
I handed her the box. Gingerly she pressed a Puffs Plus against the swelling, a curative technique with which I’ll wager doctors and homeopaths alike are unfamiliar. Every few minutes she removed the tissue to give me a peek: “Is it ugly yet?”
How can I explain to her that it’s beautiful? That her face, even when marred by a purple lump the size of a silver-dollar pancake, is unremittingly lovely to me? When Jane was two years old and in the thick of chemo, her bald head seemed to me as finely sculpted as the Pieta. I still miss Wonderboy’s funny little tail, the peculiar protrusion that was removed last summer to enable him to comfortably sit. Rose’s skin is like sandpaper, especially this time of year when winter’s dryness cruelly taunts her eczema. When I smooth lotion onto her sensitive limbs, I am simultaneously anguished over her discomfort and awed by her fortitude. No rough lick from a kitten’s tongue was ever sweeter than a brush on the cheek from my thorny Rose’s arm. Their imperfections reveal their courage, their resilience.
Is this how God feels when He sees us struggling through our weaknesses? Is the tenderness in my heart only a reflection of the great tenderness He feels when we take a hit and get back up?
Is it ugly yet. Oh, no, my darling. It’s a sign of your willingness to take risks, your sweet foolhardiness, your abandonment to the joy of being alive and able to run. It’s a bit of pain that brings you to my side to be nurtured, briefly, by the sheer comfort of my presence. It’s a badge of honor, for as soon as you left me you went back downstairs to play the game again.
Taking This Show on the Road
2010 in the Rearview
When the Saints Go Rushing Out
Elephant: the Sequel