“Grace is the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually as grateful as you are to be there.” Anne Lamott
I love almost everything Anne Lamott writes. I discovered her writing by chance amongst the shelves of my local bookstore, just after Sam was diagnosed with Leukaemia. I found ‘Bird by Bird’ in the section of books about writing and went on to order almost every other book she has written.
I have always wanted to be a writer. As a child I had my exercise book wrapped in a ‘freezer bag’ wedged in the highest fork of the backyard jacaranda tree. My writing was safe there, out of reach of prying eyes; and somehow it survived life’s storms for the months that it lived in that place.
After school I would steal writing time by climbing that tree after polishing off half a loaf of raisin bread. On occasion I would also take my opened tin of sweetened condensed milk and my spoon, and balance them in the branch with me as I watched the neighbour’s ferret dash across the fence palings.
After a few moments, the hectic sounds of the traffic on Parramatta Road were silenced as I entered my imaginary world of creative writing. In writing I discovered I could be whoever I chose to be and could go wherever I wanted to go.
I revisited childhood when Sam was diagnosed, because the reality of Leukaemia was too confronting and I needed an escape. In Anne Lamott’s writing I found first a role model and then a friend. Her words resonated with raw honesty and I found a person like me, asking the same sorts of questions about God and faith and humanity.
I decided then that I wanted to be that kind of a writer and committed myself to the morning pages. For more than two years, I have made myself get out of bed to write and as a result I have a complete account of my fears. Somehow through writing you work out what life means and how you are going to get on with it now. It is terrifying to be told that your daughter might die. Your heart stops, your ears ring and denial sets in. You imagine that you fell asleep and that this is just a terrible nightmare. Somehow you plough on. You get on with it. You do whatever it takes but when people ask you questions – you have no answers.
Even now, even though the bloods show there is no cancer, there is so much I do not understand. I look at the asterisks down the side of the clinical pathology report and I wonder what it all means. The asterisks mark abnormalities and the page is full of them, little stars that blink back at me like the nursery rhyme and I walk down the hallway murmuring to myself “how I wonder what you are”. Mostly I do not want to know. By now I trust my daughter’s haemotologist enough to know that he will alert me to anything I must act on. Sometimes the burden of knowing everything is too great for my simple mind.
I am alert, however, and responsive to every physical and emotional need that my daughter has. Even when she says nothing, or makes no complaint, I hear her cry in the pit of my belly. It’s like those first months of breastfeeding when I awoke before the sound of her crying had begun. In those early days of a newborn’s life you discover an invisible wireless connection that is as wonderful as it is terrifying. You awaken to the fact that life will never be the same. You know that this connection is unique to your womanhood and though your husband is caring and kind and loving, there are some things he will never understand. Like it or not, this is one thing that sets us apart as females, that as her mother I will defend her until my death.
Sometimes there are no words to explain what it is like to be a carer looking after an adult child. You don’t even try. You smile and you do what you do. You arrange your schedule to the best of your ability, trying to fit everything in.
You get up early to write because it’s kept you sane these last few years, you arrive at the café with your book so that you can indulge in a little reading. By 8am, you are at work. You are attending a staff meeting, preparing lessons and setting up class for the day. At 9am you are wiping tears, singing and marking the roll. Life rolls on and you delight in the children; but when you check your phone at recess and you see that you have a missed call from a blocked number, your mind goes numb. A weight drops from the back of your throat into your stomach and fear gathers fresh momentum.
This week I was walking with my husband when we came to a car parked by the side of the road. A terrified woman was leaning into the passenger side of her car where her adult son sat. She was desperate and confused as we pulled up beside her, so we stopped to see if there was anything we could do. There in the car was a young man with his eyes rolled back so only the whites were visible and his skin was turning blue. My husband told her to get in the back seat and told her he would drive her to emergency. We discovered later that this boy had overdosed on heroine but it was not late for him, his life was saved.
I can still see the fear in his mother’s eyes. I know that fear. I know that empty desperation when you have no ideas left, when your charm has failed you and all you need is someone else’s light to guide your way. Sometimes in that place no one shows up and you are left with your calloused brokenness. Suddenly the words you have rehearsed on the pages of the morning tumble from your lips unexpectedly. It was just a little push and you find you are over the edge saying the things you had hoped you would never need to say. You have wished for so long that this moment would never come, that things would get easier not more intense, and suddenly you are more aware than ever before that you aren’t really coping with all the expectations of life.
Instead of holding it all together, you opt for free falling. You lean forward, you let go and you roll. You don’t know what comes next. You look for answers in books and you take solace in your reading that “when God told Abraham to leave his country of origin, He didn’t bother to tell him where he was going. He only made it clear that if he was going to fulfil the assignment God was offering him, he couldn’t stay in his old environment. When God only gives us the guidance we need for the moment, it tends to keep us closer to Him.” (Bill Johnson). You decide that if it was good enough for Abraham who became the father of many generations, then God can look after you and your daughter.