I remember one particular day long ago. I was sitting on the love seat in our living room with my firstborn baby in my arms. It was the first time I was left alone with him and I suddenly became overwhelmed with sadness and guilt. I looked at the perfect little person in my arms and cried. All I could think was that I had brought him into an imperfect, ugly world. I was responsible for bringing him into a place that would scare him and hurt him, a place that would make him doubt himself and feel sad. The fog of those painful emotions burned off quickly enough and I chalked it up to a bit of postpartum depression, but sometimes I wonder if I had more clarity at that time than I have most days since.
There’s been a black cloud over my head the past few days. The older I get, the more I tend to sometimes think that I have the world figured out. That is, only until something happens to make me realize I still have very naive expectations of the world. I think most of us venture into our adult lives with a somewhat idealized view of the future. Children come along and we picture them being happy, talented, intelligent and competent. And as for all those other people in our circle of family and friends? I don’t expect that life will be perfect every day for each and every one of them. But I do tend to hope that their pitfalls will be manageable. Jobs may be lost, but new ones found. Illnesses can be treated with surgery or medication and then it’s right back on to the normal path of life. Kids may not follow the dreams their parents envisioned for them, but they will still find some measure of success in life anyway. Death is inevitable, but hopefully it comes after a long and well-lived life, one in which the person was able live most of life’s best experiences.
Doubt crosses my mind when I learn things like a cancer diagnosis in a friend. Or when I hear that a coworker’s child is suffering from depression. It comes when I see deep unhappiness where contentment seems rightfully earned. It’s there when I receive news of a random attack that leaves the son of dear friends laying in a hospital with brain injuries, our friends sick with worry for a child’s future.
What an ugly, ugly world this can be.
I finished taming my corner garden this weekend. It was a good outlet; a good distraction. I sat on the deck last night, on a perfectly beautiful summer evening. The air was comfortable, the sky clear. All around was green grass and colorful flowers and the sounds of summer. I sat under the canopy with the Sunday evening sun just beginning to set and stared out at my little garden trying to reconcile the beauty of this world against the ugliness that surfaces day in and day out.
I had an appointment this morning, a follow-up to the mammogram I had just over a week ago. I got the call last Friday informing me that they wanted to take a closer look. (“And, oh, by the way, try not to spend the weekend worrying.”) One mammogram, one ultrasound, one view of “the spot” and one explanation of the findings in which “non-cancerous” was the last bit of information revealed, I realized I’d been holding my breath. Afterwards, since Mark and I were already at the hospital, we went to find our friends whose son is just beginning to find his way back to normal. We wanted, if nothing more, to offer hugs and love and to let them know they could call us and ask for anything. Tears were shed. There wasn’t much we could do to lift their burden other than provide a shoulder to lean on.
I left the hospital today with a new perspective. This is an ugly world, just as much as it is a beautiful one. And sometimes my expectations are too high. I worry about a child who maybe hasn’t spread his wings as much as I think one of his age should. And so what? If he’s forty years old and still living with me, so be it. (Not that I really think he’d let that happen.) If my kids don’t grow up to be neurosurgeons or billionaires, so what? I hope that they can find what it is that makes them happy in life, in spite of what the world says should make them happy.
Maybe the ugly part of the world serves to remind me that I have it pretty good. My life is comfortable and without a lot of real difficulties. My family is safe, thriving and here with me. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow these things will still hold true. But for today, that’s a lot for which to be grateful.