My grandson, Jude, was born three weeks ago. Three days ago, he was baptized. On the day after the baptism, there was a total eclipse of the sun.
All of these things take up three sentences on a page. All of these things take up more space than I have room for in my heart and more meaning than I have words for, though I sit here trying to come up with words the best I know how.
The day after the baptism, on the Monday where much of the country experienced a total eclipse, we spent the day visiting with family who had come to town. My parents were here, along with Chris’ parents and I took the day off work to rest and spend time with them. After the clouds had lifted that had completely blocked from view any partial eclipse that we may have experienced here on the central coast of California that morning, we decided to head to our favorite beach. We ate lunch outside at one of our favorite restaurants, while basking in the sun and the ocean breeze, and watched the waves crash over the sand and avoided the swooping birds trying to steal any scraps that may have fallen from our plates. After a walk on the beach and some ice cream, it was time to head back. We were in two cars, and half of us wanted to go see Callie’s house, while the other half who had already seen Callie’s house and were exhausted decided to head straight home. It just so happened that we who were exhausted and heading home in one car together were me, my mom, Sadie and Jude.
I drove, my mom sat beside me in the passenger seat, Sadie in the back seat, with Jude in the car seat next to her. And there we were, Great Grandma, Grandma, Mother and Child, all in one car together, when my random music shuffle began to play “Mary” by Patty Griffin. We drove home without speaking, along the highway overlooking the Pacific ocean, with the brilliant sun sparkling off the water and we let the music overtake us.
Mary, she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Every time the snow drifts, every time the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she’s always there
Mary, the Mother of God; she experienced this thing with us. She experienced grief and love and joy and sorrow. As I get deeper into this mother journey that I am on, I am ever more drawn to Mary. She carried God in her womb. She bore him. She loved and nurtured him. She lost him. She grieved him. She points the way to him even now. She is the ultimate mother; she is blessed among women, of which I am one.
As we sat there, the mother of the mother of the mother of the baby, each of us lost in our own world, I was struck by how universal the grief of motherhood is. We deliver our children into this world through unimaginable pain. We endure more pain as we survive those first difficult, blurry weeks of new hormones and little sleep and not knowing how to best feed and care for this creature that we somehow love with the fiercest of strengths.
This unimaginable pain somehow produces the greatest joy imaginable. Some of us are even blessed enough to make it here, to this stage of motherhood, where we support our daughters through this same cycle as they become mothers themselves. Some of us are even blessed enough to still have our own mothers with us at the same time. That’s a lot of mothering through the years, right there, all coming together in one little green car, driving along the Pacific Coast Highway.
I looked in the rear view mirror, as the song talked about Mary being covered in birds, who can sing a million songs without any words, and I saw my daughter, gazing at her son asleep in his car seat. The same daughter who has filled our lives with song from a very early age. I thought about Mary, how she carried within her the very God who created those birds who sing those million songs who inspire all mothers everywhere to sing to their little ones as they gaze at them in love.
I thought about the baptism the day before, and the mysteries that took place as the parents and godparents made vows on behalf of this little protesting man-child. I thought about how my husband and dad, Grandpa and Great Grandpa, baptized my grandson, where grace was poured down in the form of water and little Julian Van Brigham was marked with the sign and seal of the cross. I thought about his receiving of his first taste of the holy eucharist wherein he and all of us present filled ourselves, our very bodies, with God himself, just like Mary was filled so many years ago.
These mysteries are too great to process. This pain and this joy together sometimes feels too great to process. This journey of being a mother is too great to process. One thing I know: this little guy is loved more deeply than he could ever possibly fathom.
I’m glad that we only have to take it one day at a time.
“One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.”
(Annie Dillard from ‘Total Eclipse’)