Thursday, January 22, 2015

Footprints

One of my most treasured posessions is a set of hand and foot prints.

Four years ago today, when we lost our son, the beautiful nurses at P/SL Hospital made an impression of David's feet and hands in plaster--a keepsake to remind us that he was a real, flesh-and-blood person. This plaster oval sits on the piano, largely forgotten in the business and beauty of getting through the day. Once in a while, though, the prints catch my eye, and I run my fingers over them. They are so tiny.

Footprints are the perfect symbol for loss. The print itself is not an object, but a lack of one--an empty space left by something that was here, and is no longer here.  

Occasionally I indulge the urge to think about what life would be like if he hadn't died.  I imagine what it would be like to raise a son, to teach him how to be a man, even as I continue to learn myself.  I watch Katie taking such meticulous care of her dolls, and wonder what she would have been like as a big sister.  I ponder,  and sometimes even smile at, the craziness that would result from having not one, but two young kids in this tiny house.

But not often.  None of those things can be, and there is no point torturing myself with things that I can't have.   So most of the time, I try not to think about him.  Sometimes it seems wrong, this choice I make to forget what should have been.  Sometimes it seems like I am doing my lost son a disservice.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that he is beyond my reach or influence:  My being happy does not hurt him in the slightest, nor does my being sad help him.  Might as well be happy--We don't get  extra credit for being miserable.  The only good I can do in this world is to the living--my wife, my daughter, my family and friends, my students.  Doing my best for them means trying to dwell on what I do have, what I can do.

The other day I tried to literally count my blessings, you know, like that song we've all sung?  Ever try to do that?  I highly recommend it as  a spiritual exercise.  I had to stop after an hour and get ready for work, but I was nowhere near done, there is so much to be thankful for.  Life, overall, is pretty good to me, here in this fallen world.

And not a day goes by that I don't feel that fallenness.   Every day I feel that loss in some way.  I have heard it said that grieving parents never get over it; they simply learn to get on with it.  This is true.  When I look around, it is sobering to realize that I'm not special.  Everyone experiences it, somehow:  A lost child, spouse, relationship, opportunity; regrets, hurts, bad decisions, bad health...nobody gets out of this fight completely unscathed. And that, of course, is the very reason that we have to keep fighting for the good, that we need to keep "getting on with it."  We need each other.

God has blessed the garden of my life with soil that is is rich and deep, and there usually seems to be a bit more growing here than I know what to do with--a fairly good problem to have.

And under it all, permanently pressed into the soil of me, is a deep, David-shaped set of footprints.

***