It might just be a consequence of getting older. My kids are going off to college, to camp, to higher grades in high school. The family dynamic is shifting in subtle ways and I am home in an empty house on more occasions than I could ever remember.
It might also be a consequence of everyday life. I have had a few challenging years that have blessed me in the most backhanded way possible, reminding me on a daily basis to tell my kids I love them. To remember that we are all living on borrowed time and that any second the ground may come undone. It’s the punch in the face realization, the blessing that one takes while yelling, “Thank you, Sir, may I have another!” to the great doler-outer of fortune and grace.
And so, I find myself crying more than I have in past years. Not just from pain, but from joy. The two have become intertwined, going hand in hand with the knowledge that the joys we have are tenuous. That moments need to be grasped, and captured, and branded into more than a snapchat story that records them. But unfortunately, I can’t take these smiles and joys and place them in bottles on my kitchen shelf to look at and save like a ceramic teapot collection. These happy joyous moments remind me of how time has incomprehensibly and silently sped up since my last birthday, since last year, since the last hour. And so I cry with the joy, and I cry with the pain, and my empty house echoes the same.
I know I am not unique in this. I remember seeing adults crying at weddings and telling myself that I will never be like that, and now, here I am falling apart over smiling pictures of my kids at camp and hiding in my closet so none of my other kids will see.
They are tears of joy, and tears of pain.
It’s part of the blessings of hardship, or rather, of life. It is something I could never have comprehended at 25 when my worst fear was that my then one-year old daughter wouldn’t get invited to a class birthday party. But now, having dipped my toe into a world of darkness, I know what possibilities lie ahead. I know what I’ve managed to escape and my blessings are like shards of brilliant glass reflecting light and brightness through dangerous spikes and splinters.
In a moment of quiet reflection, my ten-year old son had a profound observation. He was commenting on how everyone always tells him that he has challenges and that he overcomes them. “It isn’t that I have challenges,” he said, “it’s that life is the challenge. Just living every day. Everyone has that, not just me. That’s the real challenge.” I told my husband what he had said and remarked that there is no way anyone would believe me that he actually said that. It seemed too perfect to come from the mouth of a kid his age. But now, looking at his smiling face in a picture, I realize that no one else could have said it quite so well. It resonates so clear. The happy, the sad, the pain, the joy – it’s the challenge of life, all encompassing and overwhelming, never static and rarely quiet. How ironic that my youngest child understands that juxtaposition better than all of us.
My kids will make fun of my tears and I’m glad. Most of them are still battling the simple obstacles. I know one day they will cry tears of joy, one day they will cry from pain, and one day they will see the blessings in both.
For now, I need to just hang on to the blessings, shards and all, and embrace all the light I can find. Even if it means crying over camp pictures.
After all, these tears of pain are also just tears of joy.