Eastertime has always felt cruel to me. Colder than Christmas. Skinny girls in their thin flowery dresses and first tottering heels get buffeted by the wicked wind crossing the parking lot. You sit in church, or used to, anyway, starving because you're supposed to fast an hour before eating the flesh of the god and once you make it past Sunday all the things you gave up for Lent don't seem as great as that one night you broke down and cheated. The jelly donut is kind of cloying, actually, and waxy bunny chocolate is never as delicious as the gorgeous arrays at cozy Christmas cookie exchanges. And how can you get past the torture, the violent death three days ago?
Randy's mother (a minister's wife!) came out of The Passion of Christ saying that as a mother she would never allow her Son to go through such an experience which I think is part of the atheist point.
Nora cries and cries, wretchedly, at Easter brunch today. She wants to go home, she doesn't want to eat ANYTHING! and she HATES this place, HATES this Rick Tramonto's big hotel spread with the cute kids' table and the silent Easter Bunny wandering around giving silent hugs and the little pastries that don't feel like Mom is really eating so many calories since the yummy nutty sticky light goodness is so small. The creamy tang of lox is on a mini bagel that is so mini it feels non-caloric but at the same time almost as naughty and good as a drink since Mom's been forgoing fish lately, on top of the meat and caffeine and alcohol. But we're talking about Nora here, who seems inconsolable until, high on my illicit smoked salmon, I tell her she gets to be like a college girl who eats her dessert first!
So she perks up and asks me to go to the buffet line with her and after the cookies and M&Ms and THEN the pasta and bagel and melon (the second request to accompany her made via emphatic sign language, because, she explains later, it's rude to talk with your mouth full), her face has plumped up and turned beautiful again and when she take a rubber band from the bundle of crayons and uses it for an impromptu headband, it somehow does something perfect to her blond tangles.
The conversation turns to whether the marshmallow Peeps that big sister Mia (who has been a patient, helpful and compliant trooper this whole time, but that is hard to notice in the face of all of Nora's loud and unnecessary sobbing) is soaking in her ice water will melt or turn hard. We plan their microwave blowup later this afternoon and Mia wonders if the gummy bear who has been expanding to three times his size in a bowl of cold water on our kitchen counter all week is a slow motion version of the anticipated Peep explosion.
I catch Daddy's eye and wonder if I can remember that tantrums are always temporary, remember that this glorious Sunday recovery is worth the black despair of Friday and Saturday, wonder if I can remember in the thick of it next time (and whether that next time will be next month or next cruel spring, I do not know, which is part of the problem) that I have the great and precious fortune to experience highs that almost nearly just about make the lows worth the Gethsemane.
Forgive me for that overwrought comparison but yesterday in the shower, while I cried and cried, wretchedly, my mind slipped from agony to agony in excruciating rhymes of loss and denial and frustration and rage that kept waves of sobs coming until the themes of pain were like an aria. It has been a bit dramatic around here of late.
The family visit dynamics that set off my operatic binge could be lovingly tucked to sleep with a little application of compassion and maturity. Uncle Sid told my daughter not to whine. A few times. Nothing much, right? I have given her and her mother as much criticism in the paragraphs above. But in my current state, his gentle correction on Friday night set off my emotional tornado.
I try to rationalize the despair away with diagnoses. Take your pick; there are the raging PMS hormones that I hope to attack at the acupuncturist next month, some lingering seasonal affective disorder (whoops, can't use that one this late in the year), a drop in endorphins from an abbreviated workout, too little sleep, low blood sugar, what Hope Edelman calls a "subsequent, temporary upsurge of grief" brought on by imagining the extended families gathering around me for dinners and brunches this week, the whole general rough transition to motherhood, depression (whose tenacious grip this condition shares, but only in intense, brief periods), some loneliness, a moral weakness, isolation, a personality that reveres sentiment and despises repression, the seductive call of transgression, grief grief grief grief grief.
But I dread admitting to any of these being bigger than my optimism and my strength (see "moral weakness" above.) I dread it so much that this blog post may never see the light of day. B+ is more than just my blood type and realistic optimism is my religion, which is not so very odd when you consider studies that have found our brains are hardwired to "interpret unexpected and even unwanted outcomes as being for the best." Take optimism to its furthest degree and you have can find a belief in a benevolent supernatural being Whose Eye is on the sparrow. My optimism does not extend that far.
The concepts of omnipotence and omniscience fall to shreds with a little examination, but organized religion's tools, blind faith and obedience, try to keep analysis at bay, or work it in illogical circles, like the vastness of the universe or the complexity of an eye requiring the explanation of supernatural intervention.
And yet. I found the Wall Street Journal article about optimism on Rachel Troxell's blog about her battle with breast cancer, a battle that her body could not survive. Rachel took great comfort and strength in the abundant prayers raised for her, even those from friends and strangers whose religious beliefs she did not share.
I read Rachel's battle stories in awe, true awe. Here is life and death, here is my friend facing the end of her own life. I read and for the first time in years I bend my head in prayer. Not speaking as into a tin can on a string that stretches into the clouds, like I did as a child, not asking for anything, not asking, but bowing in reverence and awe and gratitude to that one life, the one preciously particular life and light that I was so so lucky to know, that was my friend.
And like the tears that after a while fell because just because I cried, the prayer feeds itself and I am grateful for gratitude, its healing power and its inevitable return.