Choose me, I thought.
Me. Me. Me.
Goosebumps prickle my arms as the cool fall breeze blows through the bleachers. The crowd of family members cheering on their softball players are huddled in sweatshirts, beanies and blankets wrapped around shivering bodies as we sit through the last inning of a blisteringly long U10 softball game.
I stare at my curly-haired kindergartner. At my tall bombshell of a tween. Only twelve feet away from me but in a different world. They shout excitedly at the sight of a woman they know. A woman they love. A woman that loves them.
It’s not me.
My girls rush to her side. They call her name. They jump on her. Touch her face. Crave her presence and attention.
I am here, too, I think. Right here. Always here.
I am here, yes, but on the other side of an invisible divide.
I am here. She is there.
And, tonight, they choose her.
Old wounds open as embedded emotional shrapnel twists inside my heart, piercing me deeper. Leftover from battles with grief and betrayal and change, I have tried to heal with sharp fragments still inside.
Scarlett laughs and runs away, slipping in the loose red sand that has migrated from home plate. She cries. And although I am less than five feet away, Scarlett reaches for her.
She scoops Scarlett up into an embrace.
I let her.
Lily snuggles with her and laughs with her. Shows her silly emoji texts on her phone. Catches my eye and smiles briefly.
I feel grief, but I cannot feel sadness. My eyes fill but do not weep. My chest, heavy to the point of breaking, expands with air; I hold my breath to gain control. I let it blow slowly through my lips.
Scarlett wraps her legs around the woman’s waist, her curls falling gently as she nestles into the curve of this woman’s body. I watch lips that aren’t mine kiss the top of Scarlett’s head and rock her, soothe her, placate her.
A familiar man bearing nachos and cotton candy approaches the woman holding Scarlett. He sits next to them. Wraps his arms around her and my girls. Makes Scarlett laugh and wipes tears out of her eyes.
For 12 years I loved him, and now I watch him love another.
She is his.
They hold Scarlett. They hold my baby, the one I birthed and nursed and nourish and cherish. My baby who isn’t a baby anymore but is long legs and toothless smiles, who I sit with at night as she fears the dark. Who I sing with and read with and fall asleep with on couches and ballerina bed covers.
But also theirs.
I feel discomfort. I feel peace. I feel empty, but I feel the wholeness of emptiness. It’s a kind of peace set in the jagged, sharp edges of the realization that the purpose of feeling the pain is to enlarge the capacities of our love.
I’ll say that again.
There is purpose in feeling pain. Love is the purpose.
The deepest kind of love requires a daunting courage found in the hidden corners of our hearts, intermixed with the heartache that we have been afraid of and unwilling to touch. In order to feel our deepest capacity for love, we have to be willing to sit in the discomfort and burden of our grief.
And that’s a damn tall order.
Because we are never fully healed, there’s no summit to conquer. No titles to win or medals to collect. Growth through grief isn’t a sprint. It’s endurance training.
And sometimes, the pain feels too great, and the hurt is unendurable.
But if, just IF, we can take steps to undertake what feels like an impossible task — this love will change us. This love will give rich meaning to our brokenness. This love will forge deep intrinsic strength.
Don’t overestimate your timing: We must be handled carefully as we sit with the parts of us that are too hot to touch. Too soon and we can disrupt the healing patterns we are trying to pursue. But when we are malleable enough to be molded and shaped, the real bravery is sitting in the discomfort of this change.
Remember, love can be larger than we ever suspected it could be.
Lily notices me sitting alone, wanders to my side, and huddles with me under my warm blanket. She kisses my forehead.
“Mom. You okay? You seem sad.” She leans against me. It fills my chest with courage. “I love you, momma.”
She walks back to sit with her sisters, her dad, her other mom, all of whom love her so dearly.
I watch her go.
A pang of loss swells inside my chest. I let it sit there, stirring inside me.
And I turn and watch the softball game.