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Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at our square kitchen table, the central hub of our downstairs, fiddling with one of last year’s Christmas toys. I’d been reading a novel set in coastal Maine filled with the tragic yet enduring lives of characters whose thoughts often – and all too uncomfortably – mimick my own.  This sometimes disturbing, yet luring prose, had much of my afternoon attention; until finally, my psyche needed some air. So, I turned to fiddling with the toy –a puzzle of sorts – my favorite kind.

As I sat in fading afternoon sun with fresh appreciation for the background sounds of country music (after a month of Christmas carols), I moved miniature shimmer painted plastic cars side-to-side, front-to-back. My sole purpose was opening the red car’s path so it could exit the garage. I lived in suspension of time and freedom from self-imposed pressures of the world.

It was glorious.

And then that song came on. The one I can hardly breathe through. It brings the sort of momentary clarity causing my throat to involuntarily constrict and my face muscles to tighten. And for three minutes, I see.

I see these days of parenting are short and fleeting. I see how I miss opportunity over opportunity to express loving support and unwavering acceptance in the face of situations that scare my mind into the “what if’s?”

But life’s not the breath you take, the breathing in and out
That gets you through the day, ain’t what it’s all about
You just might miss the point trying to win the race
Life’s not the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away

My nose starts running, my eyes fill with tears. I keep moving cars with one hand while my other hand props up and hides my face from Superman, who is also sitting at the table playing on his computer – apparently unaffected by the lyrics. He has no idea that I don’t see plastic cars or next moves. I’m caught in time past – reliving a first home run, first goal, first time leading the horse, first months of scout camping alone and those mid-weekend, tear-strained, quivering voiced phone calls, “Mommy? I want to come home. I miss you. I’m scared here without you or Dad.”

I’m caught in time future – and my heart beats faster. Swelling from my chest rises up my throat and it becomes harder to hide my moment. Soon, they will be in high school, then choosing colleges, graduating and moving out. Too soon, I will be telling stories of my first son’s birth as we all anticipate the arrival of a first grandchild. I hope I can be there. I hope I can see his or her wrinkly and red, curled and fisted little form, from nine months in-utero. Or maybe, if the first grandchild comes from one of the Ethiopian children, I’ll be re-telling those moments of first meeting…

I hope by then I can re-tell it freely with tears of joyful hilarity and not the mingled halting strain and amused sadness with which I remember it now.

The song ends and my clear moment lingers. This is all I have. Time now to love them. Even the love that doesn’t always flow… still, I only have now.

Then, like a new candle lit for the first time, burned for a moment and blown out, the lingering fades. Even the glow from the wick fades. But proof of its lighting remains.

 

Note: The song is The Breath You Take by George Strait. The book I was reading (finished last night) is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

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