“What on earth is going on in here?” I felt the words rising in my throat, as I walked through the front door. But at that moment, I didn’t even have the breath to carry them out of my mouth, so quietly they slid back down to where they had come. Besides, I knew exactly what on earth was going on. I had been at this motherhood gig long enough; I didn’t even need to ask the question. I had left three teenage boys in charge of my two grandsons for several days in a row. What was going on was my sons were trying their best to be good uncles. The couch was balancing precariously at an angle, cushions were scattered across the floor, several large inflatable pool toys including a large slide added more obstacles to the course. A rope was thrown over an exposed beam in the ceiling so that young nephews could swing across alligator infested carpet. It was too cold to play outdoors in March, so the outdoors had no choice but to come indoors. My living room was a topsy-turvy playground. All that was missing was the Cat in the Hat!
Surveying the situation, I could see that my living room had become a reflection of my life. Nothing was in the right place. Everything was turned on end. I felt trapped in an obstacle course. Once more I could feel the questions rising from deep within my soul, almost coming to the surface, but with no energy to express them they just floated around inside. “What WAS going on here?” “Why was everything turned upside down and inside out? Nothing was where it was supposed to be. Arms that should have been cradling newborn babies were empty. Twins girls that should have been in two separate bodies were born in an embrace, their hearts beating as one, dying while holding tight to each other. Mother’s milk, full of life sustaining nutrients, now dripped like salty tears from my daughter’s heart, running in rivulets over her stretched out skin. Two grandmothers gently wrapped pink blankets around cold bodies; their combined love still not enough to absorb the pain for their grown children. Life, in that moment, seemed as out of my control as my living room.
Slowly, I stepped over a mattress and an inner tube, winding my way towards my kitchen where I took off my coat and mindlessly sifted through several days’ worth of mail that had accumulated on the table. It was only then I noticed the steaming dishes on the counter. Even in all the commotion, my first thought was who had seen my house in such chaos. “Where did this food come from?” I ask my son as he ran backwards through the kitchen, sword fighting a five year old with a pool noodle. “I don’t know, some lady with short hair and glasses left it,” he said as he raced down the hall. “Angels have short hair and glasses these day,” I thought to myself. Saying a silent prayer that if it was an earthly being that had delivered it, it was someone who had at least seen my home in more stable times. I lifted the lids from the dishes and the smell of a home cooked dinner wafted towards my nostrils. I began to feel some strength return to my limbs. How many nights had it been since my family had eaten a real meal…I wasn’t even sure.
For several more days, the ritual continued. Women, some in short hair and glasses, some young and some old would ring my doorbell and hand me a casserole dish, a pot of soup, an angel food cake. Women would bring a ham, potatoes, a hug. Sustenance. Salads. Soul food. As my questions reached out to the universe, my answers were coming from the earth and Kroger. As I ask why, neighbors showed me how. In times of crisis, comfort is often embodied in a casserole. Love is mixed into a batch of cookies and hope rises in a loaf of bread. Friends who do not know what to say, simply stand at the threshold and extend a chocolate cake. My sisters, who know me best, did the dishes. Day by day and bite by bite, strength returns to our bodies and our souls.
In the years that have passed there have been more births, more funerals, more sick days and more celebrations. I have stood on my friend’s doorsteps with potholders and Pyrex and I have smiled graciously as bread and fishes have been left at mine. I have welcomed new granddaughters and wrapped them in pink blankets. Today the couch and chairs are in an orderly U-shaped formation around a fireplace and when life becomes chaotic, I have a little deeper understanding of “what on earth is going on here.”
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect”