Saturday, August 8, 2009

Opposition in all things

Yesterday I got in the shower and had just shampooed up my hair when, as if on cue, the baby monitor lit up and the wailing began. I felt like I was experiencing deja vu. I vividly remember the exact scenario happening when Mister was a baby, a very colicy baby, I might add. I remember standing there as the water poured over me and crying. I was just a new mother who simply wanted to take a shower at 1 in the afternoon. "What about me? What about me?" I said to nobody. And, amazingly enough, Somebody answered me. The thought came into my head forcefully, as if it had been said out loud: "It's not about you."

That was a turning point for me, my own personal Moses-moment, when I really understood for the first time that life in general is not and should not be about me. A thought that, at the time, like Moses, "I never had supposed."

So I have been thinking this past week, as I have been juggling a crying baby around the house and as I have been sitting out on the patio in the 112-degree head to calm his little stomach, about opposition and the paradoxes of the gospel life--loosing yourself to find yourself, receiving all only after giving all, and so on. The three postpartums I've experienced have been very difficult for me, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, as I'm sure they are for most women. But that's probably part of the paradox. Would I treasure this so much

without this?
Would I love so deeply without giving so dearly?

In her book
A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard describes the horror and viciousness of a giant water bug that poisons frogs, fish, and insects with one bite. This bite dissolves the victim’s insides—all but the skin, through which the giant water bug sucks out the victim’s body. Dillard then writes, “That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created. In the Koran, Allah asks, ‘The heaven and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?’ It’s a good question. What do we think of the created universe, spanning an unthinkable void with an unthinkable profusion of forms? . . . Pascal uses a nice term to describe the notion of the creator’s, once having called forth the universe, turning his back to it: Deus Absconditus. Is this what we think happened?”

Before Dillard answers her own question, she spends a great deal of time in her book describing her walks along Tinker Creek where she was privileged to see God’s creations and to experience what she calls “beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous.” She then ends her book, saying, “Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see.”

Dillard looks at the oppositions in the world—the cruelty and the beauty—and can only make sense of it by concluding that our purpose is to take the time out of the busyness and nothingness of life to really see our surroundings and give thanks for them.

Although I agree with Dillard about the importance of taking time to really see, and although I find her writing beautiful, I’m glad I know that opposition in all things—even in the creation of the giant water bug—has a deeper purpose than she gives it. I’m glad I can find comfort and joy in the togetherness of my family because I have been single and lonely. I’m glad I can feel the peace of watching my baby sleep because I have felt the turmoil and helplessness of watching my baby cry.

Dillard searches all over creation, trying to philosophically think of the answer herself without doing what she should do the entire time: going to the Creator Himself and asking Him the meaning of opposition in life. After 271 pages exploring (among a few other things) the coexistence of both extreme cruelty and breathtaking beauty in nature, Dillard ends without a definitive answer. Despite that, she ends as she should, by praising and thanking God for the oppositions. I’ll quote her because I wish I could express praise and gratitude the way that she does: “I go my way, and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”

I admit that, unlike Dillard, I'm not to the point of glorifying and amen-ing the sleeplessness and pain and mood swings that is postpartum, but I am trying to cherish the moments of these first few weeks while I survive the larger portion of the days (and nights). And I do offer plenty of "Glory"s and "Amen"s when I watch my little baby and his ever-changing expressions as he sleeps.


Madsen Family said...

C, Only you, with no sleep, could describe the postpartum stage with such beauty and honesty. Those first few weeks (months?) are brutal and while it's hard to enjoy those peaceful baby moments, I'm glad you are trying to appreciate those fleeing moments. My one piece of advice to you: turn OFF the baby monitor whilst in the shower. Yes, it's not ALL about you anymore, but if you don't take care of yourself (even a little) then who will take care of everyone else? I hope that you enjoy/endure the next few weeks. We're sending good vibes your way!

draeves said...

I hear you in this! (And I, too, think Dillard's book is beautiful. I wish I could write like that). Those first few weeks and months can be so hard . . . do make sure you take some time for yourself, though, so you have energy for the relentless giving that is caring for a newborn!

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing C. I so appreciate your insights.