It was an ordinary Monday. They make the best memories.
I was wearing a faded Invisible Children shirt, doing paperwork from the couch on my old laptop, listening to Yanni. Sunlight was streaming in through the blinds making patterns on the wood floor from the layers of leaves. The house smelled like air-conditioned summer.
I finished paperwork and called Dave. He was harvesting wheat. “We’re going to run the rest of this field, so I won’t be home for a little while”, he said. In between my questions about his plans, my phone beeped an incoming call. I glanced at the screen to see who it was, and suddenly our entire lives changed.
The strange thing about this day, June 25th, 2012, (yeah I’m a day late, but it’s a Monday memory most of all) that I can go back and entirely relive 5 years later, is that it holds pain and sadness as well as excitement and joy.
I was aware of the paradox in those first moments. I’ve become far more in tune with it as I try to consider the world from my daughters’ angle, see the anniversaries and memories and holidays through their eyes, framed by their loss.
For a while, I felt the sorrowful side of these anniversaries so heavily I hardly mentioned them, almost ashamed of the joy that was also there.
As I anticipated this date and felt conflicted emotions with its memory, I realized I was doing it again. Trying to fit life into an either/or category, when the human existence is mostly always a both/and.
The story of June 25th is the girls’ birth story into this family, after all, and they should get to hear it. What child doesn’t love to hear her parents fondly reminisce about the day they found out, the sheer joy of finally seeing the face of their precious child? This one is theirs, and there is no lack of sheer joy.
So this year, I tell them the story with enthusiasm, about the call that changed our whole world. They laugh when I demonstrate how I had to sit on the floor because my knees were shaking so hard. I tell how the dog raced around the house, not knowing why I was crying and gasping and laughing and laying on the floor. How their Daddy had to make Uncle Kendall drive the combine because he was shaking so much from the call. How he cut his harvesting short and I ran barefoot until my feet nearly bled to meet him down the street so we could come home and open the pictures for the first time together. How we stayed up late that night, reading everything we could about their story, practicing saying their names, dreaming of meeting them for the first time.
And they grin but their eyes glisten with emotion when I describe how we sat side-by-side, looking into photos of their tiny faces, and wept. Overcome at the unimaginable fear they’d experienced, at the privilege of becoming their parents, at the loss from which our family was being born.
Then it’s our turn to listen as they ask questions, stare at pictures of their own little faces and giggle at the sight of themselves, and then begin to reminisce. Quickly stories of their homecoming surface. Cy tries to remember the first time she saw a photo of us, but gets sidetracked with details of friends and caretakers. “Not to be disrespectful”, she prefaces, “but the blankets they gave us in Ethiopia were TERRIBLY itchy!”. Not to be left out, S chimes in with her own “memories” of eating applesauce and learning to crawl.
They’re full of animation tonight, and I’m stern with myself about not getting all up in my mommy-stalgic feelings as we look back at photos of this day over the past 5 years. After more reminiscing with Cy, S wants her turn at the mic again. I’ve watched her emotions building just below the chatty surface. She wants to tell something she remembers, but it’s from last night. It starts out as a dream about a monster, but quickly turns into a sincere telling of her awaking last night thinking Mommy and Daddy were lost. She tries to tell it nonchalant, but one big tear escapes on the final word. She climbs into my lap and wraps her body around mine, and I’m in full on comfort mode until she asks to hear “her song”. (Each girl has a special song I sing to them.) Midway through John Denver’s croon of I’ll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand, my emotions stage a revolt.
I manage to regain territory before she sees my tears. She relaxes in my arms, and when the next song is Thank God I’m a Country Boy, we all end up in a kitchen dance-off, seeing who can come up with the weirdest country moves. Laughing and crying, Laughing and crying. We’re learning the both/and dance too.
The human heart is capable of honoring both the joy and the heartache.
Maybe some years they’ll be desperate to see and hear and revisit every single detail like they were tonight. Maybe some years they won’t want to go there at all, and we’ll let June 25th pass for an ordinary summer Monday.
But I’ll treasure it always in my heart, the day that held the biggest surprise. The highest anticipation. The fiercest love. The gravest responsibility. The scariest lack of qualification. The heaviest sadness. The sharpest juxtaposition.
The best both/and day of my life.
I'll walk in the rain by your side
I'll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand
I'll do anything to help you understand
And I'll love you more than anybody can