I was sitting in a coffee shop (the one I frequented every Thursday last winter). I held a baby that was not mine; her eyes were wide and she was rocking her all-encompassing winter zip-up with hoody.
I just kept looking at her and I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I wanted to talk to her mother because I hadn’t seen her in months. It was one of those surprise encounters in public when you embrace too tightly and everyone rolls their eyes. You just have to swallow your pride in moments like that.
I wanted to talk to her mother, but I also wanted to take it all in: this six-month-old person who had changed in innumerable ways since I’d last seen her three-day-old self. It still shocks me how change slows to such tortoise-like steps as we get older.
So there were two things I wanted to do, and not really enough time to do either of them.
I left sadly because my grad class was calling and even the allure of beautiful babies doesn’t count as an excuse for skipping.
~ ~ ~
Now it’s last Tuesday and I’m back at the same coffee shop. Picture this: I’ve walked in, ready to order a delicious steamy beverage and perhaps read a good book (most likely catch up on the current state of demise my world finds itself in). I go to order. The barista — the same man who took my order all last year — smiles at me and asks,
“How’ve you been? How’s the baby?”
I look quizzically at first.
“I’m sorry, what?” I say.
And because he has a thick accent, he thinks I have not understood his actual words.
“How. Is. The. Baby?” he asks again.
Suddenly I realize the confusion and begin to stammer.
“Oh, no, no! She wasn’t mine — she was my friend’s! And, I mean, she’s doing very well!”
He smiles again and takes my money and I can’t understand why I feel so uncomfortable.
How could you think I had a baby?!
And I realize in that week following my 26th birthday, that it would not be at all outrageous for me to be a mother.
It would not shock the social structures.
Heck, if I were my own mother, I’d be healthily on the way to three children by now.
My friend, the baby’s mother, is indeed younger than I am.
Just another fact that took too long for me to reckon with.
A friend shared this poem the other day. I read it over and over. Not many poems command my attention like this one did. There is a lot to wrestle in it, a lot to parse out into “agree” and “disagree” (although aren’t there so many better ways to read poetry than that?).
I read this poem and I wanted to embody this being-ness. This okayness with the being I am. My finiteness. Just as God brings people into our lives to sharpen us (in sometimes painful ways), He also seems to bring poetry into mine. I do not think everyone needs to like poetry the way that I do, not at all. But I wonder what is that thing God uses to condense life down for them into the worthwhile.
Let the Joyful Speak
by John Holmes
If you were born calm, then keep on calmly,
Every room you come into, come in slowly with a smile,
Calmly. L i n g e r. Speak of the others who will be there
Next time, or in a little while…
…Be old if you are old, your age your own.
If you are tired in the world, or lost, or cold,
HOWL til you are found and warm and fed
Or dead. A man said,
Live life near the bone.
If you were born full of joy, if you love walking,
If you talk midnight down and bring in the dawn with music,
Branching day by day in the love of good companions,
Then go so.
If you breathe your own house, hear your books,
Wear time like the sun’s brown on the back of your own hand,
If you think alone like the wind across your age,
Or see your country from ten thousand feet up in summer air,
Then go so. Be your joy.
[Only a snippet and formatting is my own.]
~ ~ ~
2015 dawns cold and bright. A new semester, a new age, and all that comes with it. Sometimes I would rather up and run to Salzburg where I felt the freedom of graduation and untetheredness. It’s hard not to romanticize such a romantic time, such a beautiful place.
And then I remember that staying put can bring growth, too. That relationships are worth cultivating. That students are worth supporting. That change doesn’t always mean better. I remember that 26 isn’t too young to be married or have a baby and that I am, indeed, getting older, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the “wrong” trajectory, either.
Be your joy.
Wherever you are.