Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Winner

andy-and-jen-1

My brother turns 50 this next week. That’s hard for me to write, much less believe. In my mind’s eye, we are still kids running loose in the front yard on Lakeshire, embroiled in a bitter neighborhood match up. Tackle football at its finest. I’m hanging by the sidelines just hoping to get the call. I’ve run that post route a thousand times, judging the velocity and grasping at that tight spiral as it hit my chest with a thud. I know I can catch it. With my blue Ole Miss jersey and my buster brown haircut, I’m watching my quarterback brother for the nod. There’s a five year difference between us, and the team is a hodgepodge of school-aged friends. Mostly older. Mostly boys. But I want in, and our endless practice sessions have filled me with a wild confidence. Finally, I hear him call, “Jen, it’s your turn.” I trot into the huddle, surrounded by skeptics. I watch him draw the play up on the palm of his hand. This will never work, they all think. She’s a girl. She’s too little. We’re going to lose. “Down. Set. Hut. Hut.” I’m off. Streaking down the sideline, I give a quick head fake and turn for the end zone. The ball is already in the air, anticipating my arrival. I reach out into open space and muscle memory kicks in. The ball lands perfectly and safely in my arms. I stand, hands in the air, smugly surveying the fallen defenders. We are the winners. Just like I knew we would be.

That wouldn’t be the last time I stood on the sidelines watching him play quarterback. No, I spent the majority of my elementary and middle school years at Robins Field on a Friday night. And when his career led him to college, most every Saturday at the Liberty Bowl or some other grand stage in the South. Great stadiums where modern gladiators waged war. I learned quickly that no matter how the team was doing, my brother was going to be held responsible. If they were losing, he turned the ball over too much. If they were winning, he was throwing strikes. The quarterback has to have big shoulders, because he carries both high praise and blistering criticism. I’m not saying it is fair. I’m just saying it is. Nevertheless, Andy was an astute field general, maintaining a calm and a presence in highly charged environments. He ran one of the most effective two minute offenses I can remember, leading his team to more last minute victories than I can count. His performances oftentimes inspired heart failure from his family, but he never folded under pressure. Underperformed occasionally? Yes. Gave up? Never.

The same qualities that saved him on the football field have served him equally well in life. His broad shoulders are older but nonetheless strong. In fact, they have carried me on more than one occasion. Because of our birth order, I was always afforded flights of fancy, emotional swings, and high drama. Andy, not so much. I may have been the entertainment. Andy has always been the substance. He is without question the one man in my life who has displayed an unwavering devotion to his faith in any and all circumstances. And when I say all circumstances, I mean that. Life has not always been kind to him, but he has always found a way to trust even in the middle of the storm. In my life, no other man has led by example over such a long period of time in that way. Ever.

Andy, I hope you find a football field this Friday. I hope you line up, drop back and throw a bomb.  I know you’ve still got it.  You’re a winner.  Just like I knew you always would be.

 

Scars

Dear God, make me an oak.  I’ve written that before.  And this last few days, I’ve meant it.

Two nights ago, we had an accident in our home with our new puppy, Boo Radley.  After some additional complications, Boo didn’t make it.  The images I have from that moment will stay with me for a long time, suspended in my memory . . . especially those of my son, who had finally found his “puppy brother.”

My husband and I found out about Boo’s death before Luca, and so we carried that knowledge around with us yesterday at work, dragging it like a cumbersome millstone.  I went through the motions, all the while knowing that I was going to sit down later and rob more of his withering innocence.  Indeed, the afternoon Luca would look very different from the one I had kissed on the head that morning.  I played with the wording, the syntax, the semantics all day, urging my sense of articulation to find a way to soften this blow.  However, when I saw his face running to the car, eagerly bursting with excitement over any news of Boo’s improvement, it simply spilled out of me, right there in the parking lot.

I watched his face twist in agony, and I heard the simultaneous wail, something akin to an injured animal.  I opened the door just in time for him to melt into my arms.  I rocked him, just like I used to do, and in the powerful rush of emotion, I traveled in my mind to the seashore, feeling the intensity of each wave strike my legs as I struggled to stand.

In a moment it happened.  Clarity.  As I breathed deeply and slowed my heart rate, I said to myself, “Be the center.  Be his center.”  I knew instantly that I was his buoy in a raging sea.  Tethered by those moorings, Luca needs me to be okay even though he is not.  The security I provide him as a parent isn’t an insulation from the pain.  It’s the panacea.  All day I had been trying to protect him, shelter him, shield him.  As strange as this sounds, that’s not really my primary job.  My principal occupation is to assure him that even when (not if) the tornadic winds shake our home, the foundation is sound.  We can always rebuild.  Rooted in strength, he has to be certain that the infrastructure is stable, that pain, although searing isn’t lethal, and that in the days ahead, he will feel hope spring again in his heart.

Parenting.  It will undo you.  It will shake you to your core and test your mettle.  And there are no merit badges, although there should be.  There are just scars.  Wonderfully redemptive scars that instantly bring to mind where you have been and what you have already conquered.  Each jagged line a reminder that you are stronger than you ever knew.