The baby sits in his Bumbo, mouth wide open, in his favorite expression. Readying for a giggle that never comes. It is just an eternal smile. I tiptoe into the doorway when I hear Beezus talking to Thor. I just want to know what happens when I am not in the room. What does she say?
I love you, Thor. You are the best baby brother in the whole wide world. That's why I am going to give you a kiss right on the forehead. Do you want to bounce? Yay. You are the most beautiful baby on the whole wide world. I want you to have this--my whole basket of shiny rocks.
I have no idea how I have a happy baby and a kind three year old. I was convinced I was warping him in utero with all my nail-biting and insomnia. And creating a bit of a fusspot toddler with my lumbering near hysteric pregnancy screeching--DON'T STAND ON THAT CHAIR, CHILD! Sometimes I see Thor scratch his eczema and wonder, "Is that how my pregnancy anxiety is manifesting itself in him? Eczema?" I keep trying to figure out how I messed or am messing up my children with my overly protective way of being and my anxiety. During my pregnancy, I wondered if there was a problem with him because I couldn't dream of him. I couldn't see him in my mind's eye. And so I touch his nose and chin and belly and he smiles at me. I burn some sage in his room. I hang the planets of our solar system above his crib, and put a doll under his mattress. My great-grandmother's rosary and a Virgin Mary prayer card on the bedside table. He is safe, I think. For now.
Watching from this distance, divorcing myself from my own frenzy of adoration, they look beautiful and normal and happy and in love with each other. And I don't take credit for that. I only blame myself for their problems, and see their happiness as a divine gift, or the result of magic. Where does the gene for magical thinking come from? How did I get that? Are all mothers like me--quick with the guilt, superstitious about reveling in the good? I was writing to my friend Danielle, talking about prayer and magical thinking. I had a prayer or two answered once. I went to the Vatican to pray. And I knelt, opened my arms, closed my eyes, and prayed. I prayed with all my religious being. I tossed aside my agnosticism, and tapped into that childhood place where I believed God rewarded prayers with new Strawberry Shortcake figurines. Except this time I didn't beg. I humbled myself. And I became wrapped in that sense of the holy, like when I meditated at a zen monastery, or talked with a weathered, kind priest about liberation theology, I touched that place of sincerity and humility. And I knew, like you know it is raining without looking out the window, that my prayers would be answered. And they were.
It shook my whole belief in cynicism and bitterness. It jolted me out of that selfish, adolescent place that I had lived for so long. Danielle reminded me of these studies conducted a few years ago on prayer. "Do you know about the study in the New England Journal of Medicine some years ago? They took a group of equally ill patients and divided them into two groups. Half of them had strangers praying for their health and recovery, and the other half didn't. None of the patients or their doctors knew who was being prayed for and who wasn't, but in the end the patients who had others praying on their behalf had a faster and fuller recovery than the other group."
In fact, after my experience, I read an article about just this study and magneted it to my fridge. Prayer works, I would remind myself daily, and so I would pray for others. Never for me. Never for an "A" on a paper or to date the cute cyclist I passed on the way to work, but for those suffering around me. I felt if I could be humble and sincere in my life, I could truly change the world.
One cold night, my husband and I drove to the hospital with a bag on the floor of the backseat, and a carseat strapped up without a child. I closed my eyes, rested my hands on either side of my belly and prayed: Hail Mary Full of Grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God pray for our sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Please let her be okay, God. Please. I won't ask for anything again. Please let her be alive. Amen.
Since Lucy died, I kind of instantly feel my shoulders tense when someone tells me they are praying for me, because "I am praying for you" seems to be shorthand for "This is between you and God, kid." And yet, I want to believe that it is also some people's way of saying, "I am thinking of you/holding you in my heart/wanting the best for you," I also feel so let down by my prayer for Lucia. I want to be worthy of accepting someone's idea of divinity, but I can only see her death as my fault. No prayer can help me. I am far away from the Divine, even though when I see my children alive and happy and playing, I touch that feeling of grace. I feel so delicate these days, so precariously perched on this place between belief and unbelief, bitterness and selflessness, the holy and the profane.
Time is supposed to soothe that, and just when I feel strong, I feel weak and powerless all over again. Sometimes I see this crossroads clearly. I face it like a riddle. One direction you will only hear the truth. The other only lies. How do you know which way is which? What one question do you ask the keeper of these paths? You ask one how the other would answer the question, "Which way should I go?" and then do the opposite. And that is where I am right now, I do the opposite of the opposite, turn upside down and right my way. This place of grief is a place of lies and truths. Of magic and prayer. Grief warps the truth and the lies, and it all gets jumbled together in one gigantic heap of confusion.