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.