If you've been thinking about applying for a new job, you've got one more day before the maximum possible score on the SAT jumps from 1600 to 2400, rendering many of us idiots.
Of course if you have a family, this has already happened. Entire days go by during which I cannot utter a coherent sentence inside my house.
"Isaac, uh, Eli, uh, Caleb, get that uh, uh, uh thing up off the, the, the thing."
"The thing, the thing! Get it up before it gets wet!"
(Snapping my fingers, gesticulating wildly) "The uh, uh, cup! The cup! Pick it up off the uh, uh, uh. . ."
"No, no, no! That one, on the uh, uh..."
"This one on the couch?"
"Yes! That's it! The couch!"
I can give speeches to crowds, I can wax eloquent in a debate, but put me at home with three boys and a wife for half an hour and I become like Porky Pig on Ritalin. Sometimes in desperation I burst out with a "Stop! Stop! Stop!" -- the parental equivalent of "Broken Arrow." I usually do this while putting my hands in the air, an effort to convey the fiction that I am a man in charge.
My family, bless them, usually humors me by obeying. Then I deal with their complaints/stories/requests one at a time, triage style.
"Eli, stop poking Isaac's head. Caleb, save that story until bedtime. Isaac, stop your caterwauling. Celeste . . ."
At this point, it's a good idea to pause, collect one's thoughts, and consider the consequences of one's actions. Something I'm learning the hard way is that it's far better to think about one's words before they come out of the mouth than after.
". . . Celeste, you are smoking hot. Have I told you that lately?"
I am an idiot, about this there is no dispute. But I'm no fool.
Sometimes when people learn that I have three boys, they say something like: "don't you want a little girl to go with all those boys?" I remember when we thought we were in the worst of Caroline's dying, after she couldn't speak but before the pain made her scream for hours, I would stare out the window at the cars driving by. I would look at the people inside them, some smiling and talking, some yapping on their cell phones, some simply placid and alone. They drove to schools and baseball games and restaurants, and to homes without sick children.
I hated all of them. How can they go on like life is normal, I thought, when our life has been torn from us? It was a silly, selfish thought. But I don't blame myself for having it, any more than I blame strangers for not suffering in that moment. We think silly, selfish things when it seems like the world is bent on crushing us.
I read somewhere that most people are never more than eight feet from a spider. Spiders are ubiquitous and secretive. Suffering is like that, everywhere and hidden. We have lost people we love, we have frittered away time and dreams, we have discovered betrayal where we expected love, we have been abused, we have been despised, we have been suffocated by indifference.
Suffering is often a very personal thing, and in a world of acquaintances and transactions we grow blind to the fact that all but the most unfeeling or narcissistic among us endure it. But they do. Often it passes, sometimes it lingers.
Sometimes it returns for a visit, and I've learned that if you don't let it in for a while it lurks outside your door, peeking in the windows, whispering things you don't want to hear, until you've medicated yourself with distractions and blocked out every good thing just to keep from hearing, from seeing.
So it's best, I've found, just to let it in. Then you learn that time has dulled its sting, and you can actually bear the company. And then you discover that while you were keeping it at bay, you were keeping away the very best parts of life as well. It is the last trick in suffering's bag, the last thing it can rob from you -- the blessings you have now, your time to drive down the street and smile because life, for all it can take from you, brings gifts of grace and sweetness.
Caroline would have turned nine years old today. We would have had a party, with cake and ice cream and presents. Her little brothers would have been underfoot, singing "Happy Birthday" at the top of their lungs, hopelessly, desperately loving the beautiful girl with brown curls and eyes like chocolate, eyes like her daddy's.
Hopelessly, desperately, the way I love her, the way I miss her.
Happy birthday, Caroline Elizabeth. You are beautiful.