We may neglect a particular strength for the costly luxury of a deeper virtue.
I found a lump on my daughter’s leg the other day. It sat prominently on the face of her tibia, just under the skin. I wasn’t alarmed at first. The shin is a full contact zone for kindergartners. All manner of bumps and bruises pass their time on a kid’s shins, but this was different. No bite, no bruise, no apparent contusion, just a small knot of growing angst.
I usually deal with my worries in a Stoic fashion. I think ahead, imagine the possibilities and steel myself against disaster. I harden myself. I wait and I endure as did Zeno and the long suffering Marcus.
Yet I fail by the standards of the old masters. I am vulnerable.
Driving the kids to school a week later, on a clear and sunny day, I see the lump in the rear-view mirror. It peeks out from beneath my daughters pink skirt, riding up and down on that happy, bouncing little leg–larger. A cloud passes over.
I make an appointment with the pediatrician. Later that day I leave work, remove my daughter from her tiny kindergarten lunch and drive her to the doctor’s.
She’s greatly concerned with the possibility of a shot. She asks for my assurance there will be no shots. I tell her the doctor only wants to look at her leg. It’s not a shot visit, just a look at the bump visit. This calms her and squeezes my chest.
I sign in to the doctor’s office and she finds a Dora book. In minutes we’re ushered into our room. She pulls out the footstool from beneath the examining table, exercising secret knowledge I lacked myself. She climbs up on the table and happily reads her book, such a big, good girl.
She chirps on about Dora, the Map and their quest for the missing flute, all innocence, bright and cheerful, feeling perfectly safe by her Daddy. I see that the skin above the lump is tight and a little shiny, catching a hint of the florescent lights.
She has a scar on her forehead from a skipping mishap and crashing into the corner of a wall. She split her head open enough for me to see her skull before the blood began to run. She sang songs on the way to the emergency room. Cheerfully she chatted with the doctor, who put nine stitches in her head. She asked about his kids and how he became a doctor. And she asked me how the florescent lights worked above.
She’s as bright as they come, reading smoothly at four and doing math in her head, but she’s less-than-graceful. She careens through the day fearless, laughing and running without looking ahead.
I’m always looking ahead at what is, what isn’t and what might be–all phantoms, light and dark.
I watch her read as we wait. She giggles at the funny parts, hazel eyes wide and smile sudden. I’m struck by how much I love this kid, how unrelenting and crazy in love I am with her. Stricken, vulnerability in that love.
Marcus Aurelius, living in an age of unbearable child mortality, watched most of his fifteen children die. As a Stoic he practiced a studied detachment to shield himself from agonizing grief. “Your children are leaves. The wind scatters some of them on the ground.” It sounds harsh and it is – damn harsh. But what choice did a parent of that era have?
She’s still giggling at Dora and asking me why the exam table is covered in paper instead of plastic wrap.
Evil winds prowl the world, but I can’t bear the thought of this leaf falling. I am captured, trapped. My happiness has moved to that love, standing on it, the solid boulder in the river. Without that stone, that purchase I would quickly sink beneath the churn, welcoming it to escape the grief.
The equation has changed. We get to watch our children grow. Gladly, happily, madly we invest everything in the few kids we have. They infest our hearts like some incurable parasite, sucking the life from us making us want to give more.
Marcus counseled us to kiss our children at night and remembering they may be dead in the morning. I know why he said it. I understand the necessary wisdom of it. Marcus couldn’t afford the luxury of loving his children the way I love mine. It was the only way a parent could keep breathing, keep eating and face the next day, a day lacking the music of one small voice.
I understand it, but it’s too late for me. If this leaf falls to the ground, I go with her.
The doctor arrives and after a brief examination. A harmless cyst is the diagnoses. “Let’s wait a month and see what happens. Probably nothing to worry about,” she says offhandedly.
That’s the price we pay for the luxury of our love. The human equation has to be balanced; we need our quota of suffering. If grief doesn’t befall us, we have to make our own. ‘Probably’ will torment and haunt me like all the other things that can go wrong, can hurt her and I can’t control.
Love is purchased with suffering and I gladly pay the price.