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He comes home smelling like daycare, a cheerfully sanitary jumble of baby wipes and cleaning products with undertones of sour milk and another baby’s formula, another woman’s perfume. I bury my face in the top of his head, searching for where he is hidden under wispy-fine hair, seeking the scent of my son. It inspires a certain kinship with the working mothers of the wild, rumored to abandon their babies once strangers have handled them. As a child I believed the myth, worried over baby birds marked by human hands, smelling of other-ness as their mothers turned their backs. Now I know better, with a mother’s heart I know that like me they have the opposite impulse: to pull him in close and wrap him in arms or feathers or fur, resetting the olfactory signposts, and reclaim him nightly as my own.

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I. You know. Or your body knows, even if your brain does not yet comprehend; your body knows and begins to prepare in small ways, subtle changes of your breath, the energy in your limbs, there’s something restless and exhausted brewing in your bones. Your body knows, and as you look up at me with question in your eyes I see the answer there too, at the bottom of your soul or the pit of your stomach or somewhere equally deep and hidden, somewhere a still, small voice whispers calmly: yes, it says, yes, it is time.

II. Your daughter is clutching. At your hands, your bedsheets, the crochet yarns and hooks, her heart, her shirt, her husband’s hands, his shirt, her hair, your IV pole as she helps you to the bathroom. Her hands are tight around anything and everything as she twines her fingers into your life and will not let you go, not for a second, not for a breath, not for anything in this world or any other.
It is her husband who yells, under his breath in the hallway when he follows us out the door, closing it behind him, screaming in harsh tones as quietly as he can so you do not hear him (although you know what he says, you always know, but you don’t let him know you know, because he needs to be angry right now) — his fury is upon us when we do not control your pain, when your pain medication makes you too tired to speak, when you do not eat, when you do not like what you are eating. He is too clever for us, he knows our language of palliative care and hospice is code for giving up and throwing away, and he will not hear it. He is the one who yells, and he will sue us, all of us, and this hospital, he will sue us all until you are not dying anymore.

III. It is the time between when your body knows and when you know and when your family knows, it is the time between when I am shredded. To play God in that time for me would be first to fix it, miracle cure or laying on of hands or amazing self-healing fix it, but if not to fix it then to turn the clock forward days or hours to the time which follows. When your eyes understood what your body had known, and the papers are signed and the family is weeping and you are waiting, in that time there is healing of a different kind which is needed, so needed, but I am not God and I do not want His burdens, and so I cannot move you ahead to that time any faster than you can move yourself. But you move me, in the time between, waiting for you to catch up to yourself. You move me, and I am grateful.

Note: there is not an actual Ann, which I feel I must explicitly state for depressing legal reasons. Or rather, there is not one Ann, but have been many over the last year, and I am grateful to all of them.

I went to boarding school in the age before email, or at least before it became common and easy. My mother the writer sent me actual letters, which I received in an actual mailbox, and I would read these actual pieces of paper over lunch. (Actual lunch? It was boarding school food, that’s debatable.) Some were short notes, some were newspaper clippings, sometimes comics she found funny. She still does this, by the way; the quantity of actual, physical, handwritten mail that arrives at my house regularly astounds my friends. That, however, is a subject for another time.

One such letter contained a copy of the following poem. On the back, my mother wrote about how much it reminded her of me, that I was so often motivated to “eat the last meal in my old neighborhood.” That clipping was posted on my wall through college and beyond, and I still have it. I think it’s in a box somewhere. (That’s a joke, in case you missed it. Sigh.) I wonder if she knew, writing on that scrap of paper, how prescient her words were.

Re-read the instructions on your palm. Find how the lifeline, broken, keeps its direction. Have faith, and move forward.

Shooting Script
Adrienne Rich

Whatever it was, the image that stopped you, the one on which you
came to grief, projecting it over & over on empty walls.

Now to give up the temptations of the projector; to see instead the
web of cracks filtering across the plaster.

To read there the map of the future, the roads radiating from the
initial split, the filaments thrown out from that impasse.

To reread the instructions on your palm; to find there how the
lifeline, broken, keeps its direction.

To read the etched rays of the bullet-hole left years ago in the
glass; to know in every distortion of the light what fracture is.

To put the prism in your pocket, the thin glass lens, the map
of the inner city, the little book with gridded pages.

To pull yourself up by your own roots; to eat the last meal in
your old neighborhood.

Last night, while working on my Shabbat post, I found Susan Katz Miller’s blog, On Being Both.  I was excited when I read the subtitle, “Interfaith Parent, Interfaith Child: Notes from a Hybrid Universe”.  As I read on, I realized that this wasn’t someone speaking hypothetically, or one of the “interfaith” blogs where “interfaith” is really code for “convincing the non-Jew it is best to convert, for the children”.  This blog is written by a woman who is doing what BWB and I have decided to do, and more than that, she isn’t alone. I followed first one link, and then another, and found myself reading about all kinds of communities for parents choosing to raise children in two (or more) faiths — and succeeding.  All of the things we’ve been warned are not possible, are being done.

I nearly cried.

There isn’t any such community in New Orleans (at least that I’ve been able to find) (yet), but just knowing that they exist somewhere, that someone is writing a blog about families like mine, that there are interfaith children who are not lost, confused, or God-free — just knowing these things makes it easier to believe that we are not crazy.

I’ve been devouring the archives of the blog, tucking it all away deep in my soul like fuel, or maybe armor.  There are many posts I want to share, but for right now I’ll just start with one.  The poem in this post by peace activist Christover Mattias is beautiful, and I hope anyone reading this heads over there to drink it in.

Maybe next time we are visiting family, we’ll check out one of those interfaith groups, just to see what it’s like not to have to explain, or justify.  Hope is so precious, and yet it arrives in the strangest packages, at the strangest times. I’m so grateful this little slice came into my life right now.

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