as I have loved you
It only takes a moment for things to crumble.
At day’s end, twilight throws last rosy beams across the kitchen table, lighting up flecks of glitter melted into the clear coat years ago during some school project, making Riley’s golden flyaways shine like a gossamer crown faintly visible on her forehead. She has just finished dealing our Uno cards and she laughs–a light sound, free and almost giddy–enough to break right through the weight of responsibility in a way that heals us all a little. I have been massaging the back of my neck with one hand, that place at the top of my spine where things gather, and I smile at her, grateful.
“O-kay,” she says, triumphantly. “I dealt the cards, so Adam goes first.”
I can’t help but think how much I love the moments that draw us together in one place doing the same thing at the same time. As my children lengthen and stretch, those times are fewer. Life seems to pull us all in so many different directions. Tonight, we’ve settled here around this table and propped our legs up in the chairs and chosen to bear witness together to the closing of another day. We pass yawns as easily as we pass playing cards to each other, some lightly offered, others flying across the table madly only to land face-up and exposed.
I look at Adam, waiting for him to play a card, and he grins. But it’s a pressed smile and flat at the edges, the kind he uses to say “I’m okay, really,” when he really isn’t. When you live with someone who has trouble speaking, you learn their expressions intricately, the way you memorize slight variations in verbal tone or changes in chosen words. That smile makes me sit up straight in my chair. I smile at him, watching, my own expression a question. His face falls, betraying him, and then he tries again. “I’m okay. That’s right, I’m okay.” I can see that he’s trying not only to convince me but also himself.
I put down my cards. “Adam, test your blood sugar,” I say, but instead of reaching behind him for the case where he stores his glucose monitor, he stands unsteadily, suddenly pale. He rushes toward the bathroom, lifting one hand toward his face, and I can tell before it happens that he’s going to be sick. And I’m not the only one who knows.
Ketoacidosis, I think, getting up to follow him. The word settles hard in the pit of my stomach. His blood sugar had been high at dinner, but I-miscalculated-my-snack-carbs high, not high enough to sound any warning alarms. Now, there’s no question.
As I move across the room toward Adam, Riley shrieks. Whatishappening, whatishappening, whatishappening, she cries, her fear-shredded voice rising after us. Gag reflexes, her own or anyone else’s, trigger anxiety attacks. She crumbles with the moment, the game, the day, and just that quickly I feel as though I will be crushed by the weight of so many ruins. I hear the scrape of Riley’s chair against the floor as she suddenly stands, and I can’t even look back at her, can’t even find a thing to say, because quickly so quickly I have to give Adam insulin and check the pump on his stomach and test for ketones and clean him up. And I already know what I will find—a cannula dislodged and ketones very high, blood-black on the test strip. I will find an emergency. A messy, stinking threat.
I want to turn around and gather up that rosy light in my hands, the shimmering threads of flyaway hair, the light sound of laughter. I want to help one child well and clean and gather the other up tightly in both arms. And what of the third? Just then, I hear her voice, calm and somehow robed with my own, talking to her sister.
“Riley, you need to breathe,” she says, not frantic or even frayed, steady like the truth should be. “Adam is diabetic. His blood sugar is too high. Mom’s taking care of him. He’s going to be okay. He’s going to be okay. You need to breathe.” I can hear rather than see Zoe’s hand solid-pressed against her sister’s back, her eyes strong and aware, her expression certain. I can feel her touching her sister’s face, can imagine the way she demonstrates smooth, easy breaths. And there it is, the grace-gift still glimmering sweetly through the gaping, sick-gashed yawn in the twilight hours of our day. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other… Sometimes love overflows as reminders of the truth, splashing like cool waters over a destructive inferno, those licking flames of fear that threaten to ruin us, the moment, the day.
I feel Riley’s relief from where I stand, the sudden lightness left as Zoe reaches with the truth and flings away her sister’s fear, and I realize that splashes of that calm, steady love have healed me too, setting the broken pieces of things back into place.
“Ouch,” Adam says simply, as I draw a thin needle back out of his arm and straighten, considering how to clean him up before reattaching his insulin pump. He searches my face, trying to understand if we will be okay together, but I’m certain there’s no shadow darkening my features, nothing to find there except gratitude. Sometimes I wonder how well my children will love each other later, whether or not they will take up the love I’ve poured out on them and offer it to again each other, to others, and so the gift swells for me, overflowing still more with a deeper appreciation for the longing God Himself must feel as He implores us to love one another. As I have loved you, you love one another. All that pouring out, all that giving because of love, all that self-dying is really a filling meant to overflow from child to child to child in a whole new kind of flood—a flood that heals, that renews instead of destroys, that redeems life instead of erasing it.
I reach out and touch Adam’s face, seeing only the son I love, and at the same moment I speak to him, I hear Zoe speak again to Riley, and our words fall together, the same in every way:
It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.