Yesterday, though, when I left him at the regional hospital with his Dad, an hour's drive away from home, he was running a temperature and not even interested in drinking Sprite, which is his all-time favorite indulgence.
Though I knew he was in the loving care of his father, it was so hard to leave him and so hard to drive the hour home in our little rental car (our Suburban has broken down in the midst of this varicella plague, poor trusty machine, having travelled over 180 thousand miles on our medical odysseys in the last 8 years). I was crying in the car and feeling angry at myself for crying. Somehow when I was growing up I acquired the idea that it was better to stuff emotions under the surface -- "I am a rock; I am an island/ And rocks feel no pain; and islands never cry" --- and weak and self-indulgent to express them. The result is that whenever a crisis hits, I go into affect-less mode. This is fine, my best friend, who has a master's degree in family therapy, tells me, IF you take pains to work through those emotion later when you have more time and space. Sometimes I forget to do that, though, or lose touch completely with how I feel, so I end up like one of TS Eliot's characters, wandering through life with a vague displaced melancholy.
I stopped at Mass on the way home (my older boys had walked to Mass at our local chapel, but that was already over, and my daughter had stayed home with the varicella-afflicted younger two).
At Mass, we sang a song based on Psalms 91. I don't particularly care for the melody or arrangement of this hymn in the Oregon Catholic Press hymnal.... if you are Catholic and don't go to a traditional mass, you probably know the one. But the lyrics themselves, taken almost verbatim from scripture, sounded like they were spoken just to me -- here is the psalm itself in part:
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
The illness of my child is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to endure. To start the IV yesterday, the nurses had to try five times. They were visibly shaken. This is only five more of an almost uncountable series of needles in his short eight years of life. It was so hard to listen to him say "I am going to be brave! See? I'm being brave!" with his big brown eyes filled with tears. It was harder for him, of course, and that is the worst part. I can't take that away from him. I would like to, but I can't.
Whenever I hold him and comfort Aidan through these things, I feel glad that three thousand years ago, that king and musician and poet, David, loved God enough even through his own flaws and sins, and had the gifts and heart, to write those Psalms.
Who would write about God covering him with feathers and sheltering him under wings, protecting him in a fortress, who had not felt the scalding vulnerability of having things happen which were not under human control?
Surely David had a true intuition that God's heart speaks a little like his did. That He mourns with us when we are mourning. That feathers and wings and fortresses and shields were in some way true types of what God's protection is about. That Our Lord would want to take our burdens upon our shoulders; that in truth, He would and did. That somehow, everything, though mysterious and painful, is all right; that those pestilences and plagues are not all-mighty.
I am glad that King David (and his Lord and His Mother, a thousand years later) showed me that tears and sorrowing are not weakness, but part of being stamped with God's image, and the reverse side of joy:
"Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted."