Ever since we moved to Mississippi in July, I’ve been floundering through my days, trying to make my way. I’ve been detached, untethered, a kite bouncing around in the wind, the child at the other end distracted and uninterested.
This weekend, that changed.
It was the Cotton District Arts Festival and Super Bulldog Weekend in our new hometown. The streets were lined with a wide array of human beings — from babies in strollers to college kids with great amounts of body ink to grandparents strolling hand-in-hand while studying the local art offerings.
The weather was cloudy, cool, reminiscent of a Brown County fall. And we all know how much I love me a Brown County fall. Gus and Mary Claire performed “Greased Lightening” with their middle school drama compadres and counterparts. George and Ben ran like maniacs through the streets together, and Sam hung out with his fun posse of high school friends.
And I? I was blessed with the familiarity and comfort that comes from recognizing the faces of my friends in a crowd. Finally, the recognition. Hugs were shared, conversations had, funnel cakes eaten.
I was honored and blessed to meet some lifetime Mississippi natives. The patriarch of the group had reached out to us after seeing our interview on TV. He wanted to meet us, invited us to visit his home. We were escorted there by our dear friends and the kids were mesmerized by Bill’s taxidermy room and his African murals. His sisters hugged me like we were long lost friends. His sweet Aunt Hazel — as I was helping her down the stairs — leaned over with a twinkle in her eye and whispered in my ear, “I was born in 1913. You do the math.”
And I instantly fell in love. Holding her fragile 99-year-old hand, I felt safe and grounded and overwhelmed with gratitude for this beautiful life and all its blessings.
I’d just returned from a work trip to Indiana where I got to have a long and leisurely dinner with my parents, where I met colleagues from all over the world, where I enjoyed the companionship of some of my dearest and most treasured friends.
This life. This world. On so many levels, it seems so big and overwhelming and disconnected. And yet.
In one week, I dined with Germans and Swedes, kissed my Mom, laughed with my friends, held the hand of a woman who has lived for nearly a century. I hugged my kids, snuggled with my husband, sent him back to Indiana to celebrate the 40th birthday of another dear friend. A giant, metal bird lifted him safely across the country where he landed to a gathering of Scotch and cigars and steaks. And I, in turn, sat in the family room of our beloved Starkville friends while the kids splashed happily in the backyard pool and the adults talked and laughed and shared this magical journey we’re all traversing.
Sunday morning, George woke with angry red welts on his face, neck, and back. As the day moved forward, he got worse, the stripes grew hot and puffy, they inched toward his pretty blue eyes, he was miserable. Mary Claire was vomiting in the bathroom, Gus was — as usual — flying under the radar and emerging periodically for a snack. Sam was on the golf course.
I called Chris, texted him a picture of our youngest, declared my intent to take George to the ER. He concurred. My friends offered assistance, rides, support. They rallied the troops as those in shared villages are wont to do.
And so we went, my boy and I. When we walked into the ER, I calmly said, “I think my son is having an allergic reaction.”
They took one look at him, and the pace in the room increased.
“Is your tongue swollen? Can you breathe normally?” they asked as papers were hastily signed and we were taken back to an examination room.
A young high school girl cried softly in the waiting room. She clutched her stomach in pain as her mother rubbed her back. A flush-faced baby sat quietly in her father’s arms, hot cheek resting on tattooed chest. There we all were, sharing our pain, our concern, our worries. We comforted our children, touched them, reassured them that we were there. That we would always be there. That we would take care of them. That we would ease their pain in whatever ways we could.
George was given an immediate round of steroids and allergy medication. We played Monopoly on his iTouch. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. He offered to buy B&O Railroad from me. Little did he know I would have gladly handed it over to him at no cost. I would have gladly handed him the world, my heart, my lungs. Just keep breathing, I thought as I accepted his offer. Just keep being.
Jenny called me when we were safely home.
“Don’t take this lightly,” she said. “Play hardball with this. Be vigilant. The medication helps the symptoms, but the allergen is still in his body. Are you keeping him with you while he sleeps?”
And so I did.
I put him to bed on Chris’s side, tucked his itchy body into the cool sheets, kissed him on the forehead.
“I wish I could be there to help you,” Jenny said. And I wished the same. Her calm presence, her motherly touch, her chicken salad — all would have been welcome.
But I put my other kids to bed by myself. Mary Claire had stopped vomiting, Gus had stopped snacking, Sam was running a low grade fever. I hugged them all, wished them sweet dreams, thanked God for the gift of escorting them through this life.
Then I got in bed beside George with my Nook and a book light and listened to the rhythmic intake of his breath. In and out. In and out. He squirmed and wiggled and splayed his 9-year-old arms and legs in every direction. I studied his sweet face and the angry welts that masked his freckles.
And I thanked God again.
Thanked Him for the precious, precarious gift of this life. Thanked Him for this eclectic and lovely community that put its arms around my family this weekend. Thanked Him for the strong and steady beat of our hearts, for the warm embrace of our friends, for the blue Mississippi sky, the cotton candy clouds, the frogs chirping in the distance, the breeze sneaking in through my open window, the words on my page, the snoring dogs at our feet, this crazy, wondrous, roller coaster gift of life.
Every last bit of it.