The Joy of Presence, Part 1

"Happiness is the joy you find on all those forgettable Wednesdays." Tim Urban (I heard Adam Grant quote this during this On Being podcast)


As I prepared to do final edits on chapter 7 entitled "Treasures in Darkness," my body tensed and clenched within. These things happened on an unconscious level as I prepared to once again face and re-live my most terrifying twelve hours as a mom. 

At the climax of this chapter is the tale of a day when I had to face the most vulnerable position as a parent - the possible loss of a child. I am quick to admit that I do not fully understand nor have I experienced the depth of such devastation. In reality, I had to live with this possibility for just hours. I have friends who know this reality and have to walk through life with a shadow of grief that never goes away. I only had a small taste as I entertained the possibility of such a grievous pathway.

It was March 21, the dawn of the spring solstice, and time to do final edits on Chapter 7. My body was extremely restless and stiff. I could barely make myself sit in my chair and do the work that needed to be done. My shoulders rose up to meet my ears. In Basel van der Kolk's book, "The Body Keeps the Score," he addresses the mind body connection and how our bodies hold trauma. My body was restless and anxious on that day. I did several yoga sun salutations as I attempted to settle in and do these most important edits. My body would not cooperate.

I realized that I needed to walk and move in order to discharge some of the energy within. I contacted three different neighbors to see if they were available to walk alongside me that morning. Each was busy and unable to join me. Some journeys must be made alone. I know that, but I was doing my best to avoid this reality on that Tuesday morning. Agitated and restless, I decided to strike out on my own.

It was a gorgeous, clear Carolina blue sky 60 something degree kind of day. As I walked down the sidewalk in front of my home and headed toward the corner where I would bear left, I knew I was on some sort of important mission. There were so many emotions coursing through my body. 


My first destination was at the back of our family's property. I gazed up into the magnolia tree where my girl fell over 15 feet down to the ground. Somehow my body knew that was my first stop. As I approached this place, I wondered about some things. What would happen when I arrived there? Would I break down and sob? My steps were resolute as I approached this most terrifying and holy place.  


I arrived at this space feeling insecure and unsure. I looked up into this tree. Cars went flying by as a stood at the edge of the street. Two young moms, pushing strollers with coffee cups in hand, walked past. Peace and an unexpected joy washed over me as I faced down that tree. 

Across the street from this spot is a cemetery. It is a place where I find much peace and solace as I walk along its tree-lined streets. I turned my face toward this place and walked through a little gate that is mostly accessed by neighbors who know of its existence. 

I walked down concrete stairs into this beautiful and peaceful space. I passed by the grave of one who during his life frustrated me regularly, but as I walked by I whispered, "I wish you and your family well." This was a day full of gratitude and well wishes for all.


This residence of the dead is full of old and beautiful magnolia trees. Each one reminded me of the miracle our family experienced on the day that my girl fell from a tree. My heart overflowed with thanksgiving as well as grace for those who have different conclusions to their stories. 


My feet led me to my favorite spot within the fences of this cemetery. The final resting places of Elizabeth Edwards (ex-wife of politician John Edwards) and her son Wade. Wade died in a tragic accident at the age of sixteen. Elizabeth Edwards represents to me a woman who experienced public pain, suffering, and humiliation yet lived a life of grace and strength until she died too young as the result of cancer. Her memorial of doves taking flight is a favorite destination whenever I wander these peaceful grounds.


On my most present day to date, I walked up to the white doves and the angel sculpture that identifies the place of her son's burial, and I touched them. This is a mom who indeed suffered the greatest vulnerability that we as parents face - the death of a child. After I laid my hands upon these stones, I turned around and was faced with a magnolia tree - very similar to the one that stands in the corner of our backyard. It was a stark reminder of the scene of my daughter's fall. 

As I strolled back toward my home, I felt a tremendous peace laced with gratitude fall upon my being. I took a different path back home and as I passed each house, I considered the reality that each and every dwelling place was full of life and death, struggles and joy. Just like mine.

Next week I will share part 2 of this story. On September 12, Adopting Grace: A Parenting Journey from Fear to Freedom will be available.