I know a mama who is terrified of sending her first-born child to college. Also, she is overjoyed – though, these are not the words she uses. These precise words belong to someone else (we’ll get to that), but they apply here, too.
I ran into her, this mama, several weeks ago at the neighborhood liquor store, which isn’t actually in our neighborhood. It’s close enough, though, and it’s owned by a friend who does live in our neighborhood. And all of the people in this liquor store, where we mostly buy wine and only occasionally buy tequila, are friendly and quirky and neighborly. At least that’s the way it looks when we look at it, this particular mama and I.
She is in the check-out line when I see her, and I ask, “how are you doing, mama?” to which she replies, holding up a bottle of wine in each hand, “not so great!”
She has waited most of her life for this moment, since the time, a long time ago, when she herself was a five-year-old flower girl and then a high school senior and then a bride, each time clad in white. She’s been waiting for this moment since she was the second grade room mother who had to come up with Halloween crafts, since the time their family dog died, since they talked about the facts of life, and signed up for driver’s ed.
And now The Big Moment is here. Fuck.
Like some, though not all, of our other mama friends who are in this exact same situation, she has more, younger children at home. But that’s beside the point.
And her child, this child, her first-born, is smart and beautiful and brave and more than competent and capable and fully able to change the world. And my friend, the child’s mother, is thrilled beyond measure, and at the same time wondering what the hell she’s going to do next and how all of this is going to work out.
And that’s the way it is, every day.
I have another friend, a father (who is also a Father), who is about to move his family – his wife and two teenage children – halfway across the country to start anew. He, too, has been waiting for this moment for a very long time; he will be dean of a cathedral, which is a great honor and accomplishment. And to answer that call, he will have to leave his home, the South, behind. He will leave friends and proximity to family and the kind of comfort that settles in when one stays in the same place for a good long while.
I ran into him, this father, in a local coffee shop on Good Friday, and I was glad to see him, as I always am, though more so on that day because I had been thinking I wanted to tell him, face to face, that I was going to miss him, miss the way he evoked the perfect balance of solemnity and lightheartedness.
And this is what I say to him, exactly, as we are standing in the coffee shop, eye to eye: “You bring the perfect mix of solemn and lighthearted, and I will miss you.”
And he, following suit, responds: “Every day I wake up feeling terrified and overjoyed.” He continues talking for a few minutes, about the perils of uprooting, the thrill of what’s to come.
We pause, for the briefest second, the two of us, while the colleague with whom I’m having coffee checks his email, and the young couple at the middle table plays with their baby, and another priest, who is also our friend, works quietly at his computer, 10 feet away, sitting at the counter by the front window.
Both of these collared men are my neighbors and both are at the neighborhood church – my church, when I go, which isn’t very often. I mention the second priest to the first, my overjoyed and terrified friend, noticing that they did not come in together and suspecting that one might not yet have seen the other, even though the coffee shop is small and light and open.
“He is angry and lovely; you’ve been a good pair,” I say. And this father, who is about to move halfway across the country, nods and says, “he’s preparing for Good Friday,” because that is a sufficient and appropriate response.
It has been almost a month since the Friday morning in the coffee shop, six or seven weeks since the evening in the liquor store. I’ve been thinking, in the time since, about these periods of living in a dual state: terrified and overjoyed, solemn and lighthearted, anxious and proud, angry and lovely.
Also, bound and creative. That’s the way I feel, almost every day, these days. I would try to explain it, but it’s something, I think, that is either understood immediately at face value or not at all, ever.
And I think we are very much not alone, we dual-state friends. I suspect many of you are right here with us, with your own pair of seemingly incompatible words. Or perhaps with these same good words, terrified and overjoyed, which seem to cover a great deal of life territory.
No, we are not alone. Nor are we, as the saying goes, quite beside ourselves. These little conundrums might seem at first, or for someone who’s never experienced them, to be inner conflicts, problems in need of resolution, indicators of being unwell. But they are not conflicting feelings, pulling in opposite directions. They are, on closer look, different, strangely complementary, aspects of the same (albeit awkward) stretch.
What these contrary-yet-complementary forces seek, perhaps, is not resolution – one thing triumphing over the other – but reconciliation. An agreement to be two things at once, whatever those two things may be: afraid and elated, anxious and accomplished, committed and unbridled. The stretch is sitting comfortably through discomfort, feeling true equanimity, in this beautiful, terrible world.
Food | Week of May 8, 2017