He proudly stood on the third riser, second from the end, and scanned the audience. Our eyes met and he grinned, his tiny mouth splitting his freckled face with pure joy and great pride. I pulled out the video camera, flicked open the screen, and as he waved proudly, I recorded the moment for posterity.
And to remind myself that these fleeting moments are worthy to be treasured.
The graduating kindergarten class regaled us with song, clapping and singing their way through the alphabet, the vowels, and the numbers. They proudly showed off all they learned in their first year of school, and I glanced around at the parents surrounding me. We wore matching expressions of pride, of joy, of deep love, and of the pain that comes with knowing a season has come to an end.
Between each song, his little fingers went to his mouth, wiggling furiously at a loose tooth – the first loose tooth. Soon it will fall out, followed by several more, and those tiny baby teeth will be replaced by the bigger teeth that will stay with him (hopefully!) the rest of his life.
Stages passing by as I try not to blink my eyes.
I lay in bed last night, long after the house grew silent, and I thought on this gloriously
painful beautiful thing called parenthood. I remembered a few years ago talking to a neighbor whose dog passed away unexpectedly. She loved that dog dearly, and she sobbed as she discussed the final moments with her precious pooch.
A week later, she came home with a new dog – a puppy that looked exactly like his predecessor. I watched as she fawned over the new animal who had clearly become a balm to her wounded heart, and I shook my head in wonder.
“Why would she get another one?” I thought. “Why would she open herself up to that heartache again?”
Dogs get old fast and they die, and it’s sad. Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we open ourselves up to heartache and grief?
As my mind drifted over that memory, I found myself weaving the narrative back to my children. Love is so mysterious and strange. We allow our hearts to be tangled and enmeshed, because the pure, deep joy that comes from love far outweighs the knowledge that love also leads to loss.
My neighbor’s dogs brought her deep joy. She loved them fiercely. She could have chosen, after the first dog died, to not get another. She certainly would have saved her heart from future grief.
She also would have denied herself the mystery of loving in the present.
We love because of the mysterious connection that comes with that love. When I married my husband, I chose to give him my heart, and I did so without fully understanding the ramifications. We’ve chosen to fight for our love, which means we choose, even in the tough times, not to tear away from one another.
But even if we fight to the very end, and we continue to walk this path as one flesh, someday we are guaranteed to be separated on this earth. We will face the heartache of loss.
We give birth to children, and we discover a love so deep and so profound that we cannot wrap our minds around it all, and yet we know that with each passing year, each milestone reached, we are walking toward the grief of separation. We will leave them in a college dorm. We will give their hands in marriage. We will say goodbye to the moment that is right now, and we’ll trade it in for a new normal.
A different kind of love – the kind that comes with separation and distance, and of a life filled with more silence than bustle, with more memories than present experiences.
The hope of any parent is that we won’t be separated by the death of a child, but for some that is a devastating grief that must be faced. And it hurts so badly because the love was so real.
So why do we love? Why do we set ourselves up for this known heartache?
My faith must dictate how I answer this question.
We love because we were created by the One who Loves. We love knowing that love brings both joy and heartache, because the One who created us, His most glorious of creations, faced the same joy and heartache. He faced the beauty and loss of Love first. He designed the mystery of it all. He faced the beauty, the separation, the pain, and the horror of death on our behalf.
But that’s not the end of the story, and this is why I keep opening myself to love. I know, and believe, that this life isn’t all that is promised. I know that the heartache and the grief of separation are necessary, but only for a time.
I love because He made me to love.
Because He Loved me first.
Mysterious. Beautiful. Joyful. Painful.