I’ll never forget the first day I was allowed to bake cookies by myself. I was close to 9 years old, with an apron that went around me twice and a flour-splashed countertop in front of me.
I was ecstatically waiting for them to emerge from the oven, gooey and painfully delicious to the lips. Moments later, however, I would experience the bitter disappointment of too much baking soda.
My mom had mentioned that baking involved math and the use of proper fractions, but I had been sure that this rule could be bent. How could something so fun require something else so terrible?
Nearly 20 years have passed since then, and I know how to bake cookies now. About once a month, I get the urge to leave a lovely disaster of flour and broken egg shells on my countertop, despite the math involved. A small part of me even loves the math; it’s reliable, grounded and gets the results I want.
On June 14th, 2014, I learned that I was taking on a different kind of baking venture: the ultimate bun in the oven, a baby.
As a birth doula, it’s already part of my job to know things about pregnancy and birth and infants. But I was determined to do this right.
So I read and googled and stopped lifting heavy things and eating sushi, and started drinking more water, and quit my job when it became apparent that it was too physical (and possibly dangerous) for the first trimester, and read and googled some more.
If this cookie was going to successfully bake for the next 8 months and emerge from my oven all gooey and painfully delicious to the lips (and my heart), then I was willing to do the math, sacrificially take care of my body, and follow the recipe to make it happen.
On July 20th, 2014, a mere month ago, the cookie emerged from the oven. All gooey and painful, nothing delicious.
Sure, it was my first go-round, but I had followed the recipe, hadn’t I?
Why had my precious little egg fertilized and then…never grown? My husband and I were both young and fairly healthy.
Why had my body still produced hormones that made my breasts ache and belly expand, when my pregnancy was over before it even really started? I’d never taken birth control or had any extreme hormonal imbalances before.
What had I done? What had I not done? This recipe does not add up.
And then I realized that I’ve been operating my entire life this way, at an If/Then Pendulum.
If I’m nice to people, then they will be nice to me.
If I pray and go to church regularly, then God will be happy with me.
If I work hard, then I will be rewarded.
If I’m healthy and hardly drink and take care of myself, then there’s no reason on earth why I shouldn’t have a perfectly healthy and happy baby from the very first moment I ask for one.
It’s just not true.
Sure, recipes can be followed in the kitchen, and formulas should most definitely be followed in the chemistry lab or math department. But Life is the master of Maybe and No Guarantees.
The truth is, we are in an unrequited relationship with Life. We are head-over-heels in love, and we want to spend every possible minute with it, maybe see the world together.
Meanwhile, Life doesn’t really give a shit about us.
Is it supposed to?
Does a manual exist somewhere that says if you’re a good, kind person, then nothing bad will ever happen to you? That if you only eat organic food and don’t cuss people out in traffic, then you’ll get a Golden Star of Immunity?
Do we think we’re entitled to a suffering-free existence?
Because you can do all the right things. Pay your bills on time, love your in-laws, serve your country. And one day, you may still find yourself losing everything that you thought made you a person.
It’s not that Life hates you. It’s almost worse, in that it’s nothing personal. Life is Switzerland, completely neutral – throwing a pebble in your pond and walking away, having no idea what it just destroyed or created. No one to blame, no one to exact street justice upon, no deals or bargains, no if/then.
What is the point? Right now, I’m not completely sure.
An ancient King said it pretty well:
“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them…I amassed gold and silver for myself…I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before…I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labour, and this was the reward for my toil.
Yet everything was meaningless. So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun is grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chase after the wind…so my heart began to despair…what do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?…grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest.”
In the past, whenever a personal event has taken my breath away and torn my clothes in grief, I always notice that the world continues on. Even though my world has stopped, most people keep going about their daily lives as though nothing has happened. But for me, everything has changed, and I wish that, for just one second, that the rest of the world would stop with mine and acknowledge my pain. To know that it’s worth stopping for, that I’m not just making it up.
The week that my baby died, planes started dropping out of the skies. Most of my province caught on fire. In the weeks that followed, war in the Middle East escalated, Ebola reared its ugly head, America-the-land-of-the-free-and-the-home-of-the-brave became a little less free and a little less brave, Robin Williams’ light left our atmosphere.
For the first time that I can remember, my world has stopped…and so has everyone else’s. And it sucks.
Again we ask, why?
The same King who doubted his life’s meaning wrote this beautiful passage a little later on, and it has become my hope:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace…
God has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Maybe you don’t believe in God right now or at all.
Then believe in the seasons, how you’ve seen them change year after year without fail.
Believe in the words of Mumford & Sons,
| But if your strife strikes at your sleep, remember Spring swaps snow for leaves.|
Believe in the sun that has kept its promise every single damn day for the past eternity, after hours of enclosing darkness. Always.
Believe that, when you’ve been battling your enemies in the mud and the rain for 4 nights in a row, Gandalf is going to come to your aid in the light of the 5th day, just like he said he would.
Believe in whatever keeps you here, keeps you fighting, keeps you floating above the water’s embrace. Believe that your Phoenix will rise from the ashes, if you let it disintegrate into the death it’s meant for.
No, there are no formulas or recipes or guarantees of anything in this life, but we DO have a time for everything, good and bad. We may not know why, but we know we are not alone. Death may hurt like hell, but we know that new life will always come from it. We may not know when it will be over, but all things do end, and our story will ring out that “YES! There IS a light at the end of this tunnel, I KNEW it!” and others may not be in the same part of the tunnel as you are and they may not believe you, but you can reassure them to keep walking, it’s coming it’s coming it’s coming, don’t give up.
This is what I will teach my children. Yes, MY children, because I have no doubt that they will come to me when they are ready. And we will make cookies together, and I’ll tell them about their older brother or sister who couldn’t stay, and what I was taught by their leaving.
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
when grief sits with you, its tropical heat,
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes I will take you,
I will love you again.