I went for a drive through the jungle and over the hills, toward the river, through the cashew forests. I wanted to see if the jungle air could blow the ache around my heart away. But away from the distractions of kids and chores, community and a very willful three-year-old, the ache grew. And then I realized how sad I really am, and everything beautiful hurt, because it couldn’t climb right inside me, and what if it wasn’t enough?
This is my secret fear. Is the Good enough? Enough to make up for the aching world? Since I have arrived in India, two weeks ago, an old friend in America died of an overdose, and our Kenyan friend learned of the murder of his sixteen-year-old brother. It is very sad. My tendency, a fault of mine, is to lean toward sadness, collecting slights and pangs, allowing grief to tip me a little farther, away from hope, toward despair. Allowing shadows to whisper sad things in the dark. I allow my mistakes to bolster my belief that I’m a terrible mother, wife, friend. Over the years, I think I’ve spent more time in depression than in joy. Joy is like a weak muscle that I am always trying to exercise. Chinua reflects this back to me, with his constant, steady optimism. “Talk about the happy things,” he suggests, gently. But he hasn’t been here for a while and meanwhile I am tipping. (He comes back today— I am writing this in the taxi on the way to collect him. Ian is still holding onto life and love and faith in the hospital in San Francisco.)
On top of the hill, before I began driving back down, back into the jungle, surrounded by sky and cactus plants and cashew trees, I nearly hit a chipmunk. It ran into the road in front of my scooter, and I braked hard. In the opposite lane, a truck bore steadily down on us, one of the big ones that carries gravel or rocks. The chipmunk saw the truck and gauged its choices. The truck was a large monster and the chipmunk knew the truck was bad news. But it didn’t know what to do about me, and it waffled in stupid chipmunk style, dodgin back and forth a few times, until I was right on top of it and I had no choice but to drive straight, going too fast to stop entirely, not able to veer left or right. It happened in a matter of seconds. I held my breath and willed the chipmunk to get away with every muscle in my body. I didn’t feel anything; it didn’t seem that I had hit it. And exactly then, the man driving the truck towards me stuck his arm out the window and gave me a thumbs up. He passed and was gone, and the moment was over. I couldn’t see his face through the window, just one brown arm and his thumb pointing at the sky. Tears came to my eyes. We were both hoping the best for the tiny animal. “Good job,” that thumb told me. “It worked out.” Or perhaps he was congratulating me on not veering into his truck, but I choose to think he was glad for the chipmunk.
God sees every sparrow. He holds both sorrow and joy. Surely I can learn it.
I see all the tiny beautiful things.
An old man with bowed legs, bald on top of his head, with one jasmine blossom behind each ear. As you do.
A kestral sitting on a wire.
Isaac in the waves. Every wave is a personal delight for him, as they toss him around like a toy. He laughs and laughs, disappearing under the water, knocked over, bobbing up again grinning.
The way my oldest child is growing into a tall, strong man, with kind eyes and a wise soul.
One gnarled tree against the sky, so beautiful it pierces my heart.
The pines at the sea, bent from the wind.
The way our voices sound on our rooftop when we sing together, all blending.
Kites (the live ones, the birds) at the river, flying above the bridge.
The sun rising over misty fields.
Every single leaf.
I string them like beads, making a necklace, and on good days I can drape it around me and proclaim it all against the darkness always threatening me.
How did Jesus feel so strongly without descending into hopelessness? I think as God, he knew, he knew the endless love and beauty that are at the center of Creation. All of this is real, his whole life proclaimed, the Kingdom of God is right in front of you. You can reach out and touch it. This love is bigger than darkness. I write this on my hands, on my heart, in this space, when my heart wants to be disbelieving. I will reach for love, again and again, trusting that it will be there.