Under the Living Skies

I’ve been thinking since I drove back from Humbolt in early June. While I was driving back from Humbolt, I thought about all of the times I have been driving back from Saskatchewan. If you wanted to count, it’s been about 14 years since the first time I found myself driving back to Alberta. The first time I was dating a man with a small child, and we had just gone to visit his grandmother, her great grandmother. Together, we made that drive a few times. I made it several times later in university, when a friend was taking her Master’s of Divinity at a small school in southern Saskatchewan. Mr. Spit and I made the drive while meteor hunting, and I have made it twice now to go to a knitting conference.

I’ve always liked the drive back from Saskatchewan – it’s a beautiful drive and the road is flat enough that you have lots of time to think about what is going on in your life. The living skies around me seem to make me more philosophical than I normally am. At any rate, this conflation seems to mean that I have particular and vivid memories of my musings on the drive, and if only because of the way I measure time, I am able to think about the sort of person I think I was, when I made those drives. I am able to wonder and question – have I gotten any kinder, any smarter, any wiser? Am I a better person now, than I was last time? Particularly on this drive I was thinking about a comment some one made on my blog – they felt sorry for me because I didn’t have the experience of living children.

I have a friend, who through no fault of her own, has reached her 40’s without getting married. Now, this might not be a big deal but she really wanted to get married. She really, really wanted to be a wife and it just hasn’t happened. I have always been careful what  I said to her, it seems churlish of me, as a married woman, to tell her I’m sorry she’s missed out on the experience.

When I tell her what the difference is between us,  I put a wall between us. We are, obviously different people, with different lives. But when I trot out “Oh, I feel sorry for people who never get to experience marriage”, I’m all over the differences. In fact, when I say that I feel sorry for anyone, really what I’m doing is setting myself up as superior to them – after all you can’t be equal to someone you pity – the entire point of pity can hinge on this notion that they are in some way worse off than you. I sorrow and hope with her, that she will still find what she most earnestly wants, that’s empathy not pity. I can be with her, listen to her in sorrow. Pity reflects as much on what I have as it does on what she doesn’t have. It’s hard to abide when you are spending that much time thinking about what you do have, it gets in the way of compassion and mercy.

I think the other reason it’s wrong is because it misses the entire point of experience at all. I suspect the mark of being an adult is when our choices become much more binary. Choosing only one thing means that we can’t choose another – I chose to be married, so I can’t experience the life of a single woman in her 30’s. I chose to get a degree, I chose to buy a house, I chose the job I’m at, and well, you get the picture. I chose option A, and therefore I missed out on option B . I am not sure it matters what the other option is, after you have made your choice, so often the other path is lost to you. We naturally make the best of what circumstances we find ourselves in. We come to forget that there ever was another choice, and I think this is a wise bit of self preservation to practice. There’s only unhappiness when you are always looking back.

Finally, her comment missed the most critical point – I would have never chosen Gabe’s death. Never. I think you all know that. But perhaps the final mark of adult hood is this – you do what you can with what you have. You take terrible tragedy, and you make something of it. Oh, that something is never as good as what you would have had. All of the life lessons in the entire world do not bind up my broken heart – but perhaps the bandage it. I hope that I am smart enough to recognize the gifts of empathy and more patience and greater mercy. I watch for the broken now, I make time for the hurting in a way that I never would have before Gabriel died. I have learned it is better to be compassionate and kind, than certain.

About an hour outside of Edmonton, I realized, I should stop the continual performance appraisal. I am better in some ways and worse in others, just like we all are. I am sorry that my son is dead.  I will be sorry until the day I see him in heaven. I am sorry that he had to go, and I am sorry that he couldn’t stay. I am sorry that my body failed him, and I am sorry that the world is broken. But I would not trade the 30 minutes we had with him, to prevent another’s pity. My son lived, and when I watch for the broken, when I am on the look out for the Kingdom of God, for that tiny amount of time, in the communion of saints, he lives with me still.

I find myself saying, if it had to be this way, I am glad for the experience of it.

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11 Responses to Under the Living Skies

  1. a says:

    I am sorry that these things have happened in your life, but I do not pity you. You are obviously a very strong and determined woman with a wonderful husband and good friends. I have hope for you – that you will someday have all the children you want and can handle. But I do not pity you.

    Also, someone just wrote a book on how performance reviews were essentially useless (I wish I could remember who it was, but all that came into my mind was “Obvious. Took a whole book to reach that conclusion?” and so the information was discarded.). Introspection is good. Performance appraisals? Not so much.

  2. Msfitzita says:

    Such an gorgeous post. All of it.

    Thank you.

  3. Msfitzita says:

    I of course meant, “a”, not “an”.

    Sigh.

  4. Two Hands says:

    I like you very much, my heart aches when yours does and I pray your hopes and dreams come true, but pity? No.

  5. HereWeGoAJen says:

    I think that your sentence of “sorrow and hope with her” is a wonderful way of putting it. That’s how I feel when someone I love doesn’t have what they want.

  6. Sharon says:

    Beautifully written. Someone wisely told me many years ago that we can’t have it all. We make choices, and then if we want to we can make different choices. We can’t have everything in one lifetime. I wasn’t happy to hear that, but now I wonder if that doesn’t make what we choose more special? “There’s only unhappiness when you are always looking back” – wise words indeed.

  7. Jacquie says:

    You are an amzing lady!!

    My favorite part of Saskatchewan is Lumsden, whenever I drive thru I just want to stop there and stay. Forever 🙂

  8. debby says:

    Beautifully written. I’ve always thought this: there are some things that happen in our lives that are simply not within our ability to control. Those things must simply be endured, and the lessons of the time learned. All of us have those things happen in our life, at one point or another. I’ve never had the desire to watch (and critique) someone else’s life, what they’ve got, what they don’t, etc, mostly because I’ve been too busy focusing on the things in my own life that I can only endure.

  9. Andie says:

    What a wonderful post – thank you. I have been reflecting a lot lately on “opportunity cost” – one of the few things I remember from high school economics – you only have so many resources, and you can’t put them to everything.

    I like how you have expressed the difference between pity and empathy.

  10. loribeth says:

    I love this post… your reflections on pity & empathy, on doing the best we can with the choices we make & the hand we are dealt, and on the beauty of Saskatchewan. Having grown up in Manitoba & Saskatchewan, I am naturally partial to the Prairies. ; ) I think they have a beauty all their own. And of course, living here in Toronto, I have to endure all sorts of jokes about them. And of course, 90% of these snide remarks & digs come from people who have never set foot in either province. I think that if they ever did, they would be pleasantly surprised.

  11. loribeth says:

    P.S. Not sure if this is covered in a post I haven’t read yet — but I love the blog makeover. The “living skies” title was made for that header photo, or vice-versa.

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