A fairly new acquaintance says to me, "I don't know how you've managed to come back to seminary this year. When my mother died, I took a quarter off. A child? I don't think I could have done that."
A good, longtime friend says to me, "I don't know how you're doing what you do."
What do those statements mean? Do people think I don't love my son enough? Do they think I'm in denial?
I don't think either of those things are true.
I am rather cheerfully pushing my cart through the grocery, thinking that while I feel like shit, I feel relatively ok. Better than a lot of days. Then some piano music wafts through the air. I have no idea whether I have heard it before, whether it is glancing off some subconscious memory. But I want to let the cart go, sink to my knees, and wail a long and piercing cry. I don't, of course. I keep pushing the cart, and wonder how many people we see in our daily lives out there in the world who are silently keening.
Three women in the coffee shop. One of us lost her father a year ago; after she cared for him for months, he died in her arms. One of us lost her son seven-plus months ago. One of us is accompanying her husband through his chemotherapeutic battle against a particularly virulent form of cancer. We are laughing and beginning to plan a college graduation party for four young ladies we know and love.
What does that mean? Strength? Resistance? Oblivion?
I think that mostly it means that I love the women I know.
Oh, and the wisdom thing I've been muttering about? I think I get it. What you learn from this kind of suffering is that you know nothing. I mean: really nothing. If you have reached the age of 50, you are probably already aware that you have never known or understood nearly as much as you may have once thought you did. But this kind of loss clarifies it anew: we know NOTHING.
That, I think, is wisdom.