The Sacred Is In the Wretched
by Tirzah Marie Lewis, ACC
My usual morning routine is to lumber down the stairs with my laptop in my right hand and a laundry basket in my left. My first stop is the dining room table to deposit my computer. Next, half awake, I start to consider breakfast for the needy ones who will soon find me. Then, as I begin to prep for the first meal of the day, my mind wanders, and inspiration hits. I must attend to my ideas. But, as I start to make my way to the laptop to feed my thoughts, two small beings typically interrupt my intentions and instead insist-FEED ME. And, it is as if their arrival triggers everything and everyone awake. All at once, my quiet morning crescendos into a chorus of chaos and demands. The kids chant Mom, Mom, Mom. My email starts pinging Tirzah, Tirzah, Tirzah. Even my laundry seems to grow and grumble at me, "Laundress, Laundress, Laundress."
I didn't think about this pattern of events much until one day, a friend without children asked me, "How did you know you would be a good mom?" I had no answer until the following morning when I clunked my way down the stairs thinking about this past month's Saturday at the Center, "Suffering for the Sacred of It," and it dawned on me. The journey of parenting is something like that. No, not in the way that the controversial magazine articles try to claim – parents are not all morose and less happy than those without children. Instead, it is in the process of being present in the moments of another human being's life that this role is born.
Before having children, I believed they were parasitic. Honestly and truly! I couldn't figure it out. From the moment it is conceived, a child takes and takes until it is too large to remain inside the womb, at which point the host forcibly expels it from their body. We call this process birth, and yes, it is a miracle. But then we look at this creature covered in slimy fluid, cry with affection, and proceed to care for it outside of our body for approximately the next 18 years of our life. It seemed horrifying. I couldn't understand it! And yet now I have done it twice, and I wake up every day to care for my tiny-ish humans. And that is part of what has made me a mom. No parent knows that they can parent before the night of no sleep watching a small body battle a fever with only a washcloth as a defensive weapon. In the act of refreshing the washcloth, one finds the deep meaning of applying this cool, damp square to a forehead. Upon hearing of heartbreak and sitting at the side of a bed, one learns to sit inside the suffering of first love without the ability to truly console. On the edge of the bed, one knows presence can mean the world when another's world is imploding. It is in the act of launching oneself toward a small vomiting person and catching what would have once turned your stomach that love conquers selfishness, and a parent is born.
I've touched on one instance, but we could not become who we are designed to be without numerous uncomfortable and sometimes painful experiences in each of our lives. The loss of a loved one. Illness. The dismantling of a relationship. Depression. The wash of embarrassment in a profoundly humiliating situation. My co-facilitators sometimes laugh at my fervent belief in wretched resilience, but it is true. That which makes us stronger, wiser, and more fully ourselves is rarely pleasant and sometimes downright grimy, but it is also the evidence that anchors us to our values and illustrates the meaning of what we hold as sacred.
This treasure trove of experiences become our stories. What we tell of them and how we tell them reveals what has become essential to us and what we hold to be the essence of our personhood. I believe in sacrifice; I aim to practice presence and preparation. And so early in the morning, before my children rise and just as my husband leaves for work, I make my daily journey down the stairs. With my laundry and my laptop, I proceed, hoping that on this day, I will be a present parent and a prepared coach. At one point, it felt like suffering, but now I cherish these sacred moments.