Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Life is Pain, Princess"

This afternoon, not two minutes after I left Ben's room from tucking him snuggly into bed for his nap, I heard a panic-stricken cry that called to mind all kinds of "the sky is falling" visuals. I raced back upstairs from the kitchen expecting to find blood or fire or an errant light left on.

Instead, I was met by Ben standing in the middle of his room holding Teddy and sobbing. "Teddy has a hole," he told me between great heaving breaths and tears. "Right here," and he showed me the broken seam along his floppy leg. "Why does he have a hole?" he asked as he wiped the great crocodile tears from his face with the back of his hand.

I surveyed the scene, understanding the gravity of the situation. Teddy is the stuffed animal, the one he grabs to comfort himself or settle himself down or snuggle to sleep. The one we faithfully pack into our bags for any trip. The loss of Teddy would be a significant tragedy in Ben's life. It would be his first loss, really. Images of the Velveteen Rabbit--made real by a small boy's love--sprang to mind.

"I think he's been loved well," I replied as soothingly as I could, wiping another tear off Ben's cheek. "I'm sure we can fix him tonight, though. Do you want to sleep with him until we fix him, or would you rather pick another animal?"

"I want to pick another animal," he concluded as he gently set Teddy on his ottoman. Then he climbed back in bed with his dog and asked, "Why can't we get another Teddy?"

I'll confess to being a bit taken aback by his fickle nature. How could anything replace his beloved Teddy? But I realized, as I thought about it, that he probably assumes we could get another teddy identical to Teddy. I imagine he thinks we could walk into a store and find another bear as readily as we could find another copy of a well-loved book. He doesn't realize that another bear could never be Teddy, no matter how similar they look.

So I explained that Teddy was a gift, so I don't know where he came from and that I was pretty certain we wouldn't be able to find another bear exactly like Teddy, but then I assured him his furry friend would be just fine once we could attend to his injuries. This seemed to sastisfy him. I left, and he was asleep within minutes.

When I returned to the kitchen to check my e-mail, I found a difficult message from a friend: her close friend had taken her own life, leaving a two year old and a two and a half week old baby without a mother, leaving a man without a wife. She had been battling depression throughout pregnancy and then lost the battle in a bout of postpartum psychosis. The story has haunted my thoughts all day.

Writing about it is hard, and I don't even know her. It is absolute tragedy. Senseless. I am struck by how troublesome our minds are, how unreliable. The hormones and neurotransmitters and innumerable biochemical processes that trick us into faulty perceptions of the world and false beliefs about ourselves. I cannot help but wonder how that father is going to get out of his empty bed tonight to feed his tiny child who will walk into life with this legacy of pain.

"Life is pain, Princess, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something." The wisdom of The Princess Bride. I let it churn through my thoughts, trying to decide how I feel about it.

I don't know.

To some degree, we are set up for pain, for loss. I mean, from the moment we arrive, we step ever closer to the end. We build attachments to people and things, relying on them under the false assumption that they will always be there. At the age of four, Ben already stands to lose so much, Teddy the least of these. The mere thought of something happening to Josh is enough to make my eyes sting and well. I cannot consider it. My heart aches just thinking about it.

Well, tonight, Josh and I sat on the couch in our family room quietly stitching Teddy back together. I held the nubby fabric while Josh deftly pushed the needle down and up until the hole was closed. The stitches aren't beautiful, but they've mended the wound and preserved his imaginary life for a little while longer, at least. I took Teddy up to Ben's room and nestled him in his arms, telling Ben his surgery was over and that he'd probably need a little extra rest and lovin' while he recovers.

And tonight, a father will begin putting his life and the life of his daughters back together, though I can't imagine how. Day by day, stitch by stitch, perhaps not gracefully or beautifully but hopefully enough to preserve their livelihood a bit longer.

I can't make any more sense of it than this. Life is pain, yes. So we mend our hearts as best we can and move forward in faith that it's worth it to love and, occasionally, lose.

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