Beauty & Sadness

Photo credit: Manuela Micu // @micu_manuela

Tomorrow marks one year since I found out I have multiple sclerosis. It’s been one of the hardest years of my life and I’m still processing so much of how I feel about it. I’m a 5 on the enneagram so this might take awhile.

On Sunday Jason asked what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day and I told him I wanted to take a family bike ride. So we piled the four bikes onto the top (and back) of our trusty Honda and headed for the water. We rode for 3 miles along the waterfront and then spent an hour at the water’s edge, throwing the frisbee, stretching out in the sand, reading. When the boys started asking for snacks, of which we had none, we knew it was time to pack it in. We hopped back on our bikes and rode the 3 miles back to our car.

Except the car wasn’t there.

Long story short so I can spare you the frantic rushing up and down the street with two exhausted, hungry children: the car was stolen. We managed to make it home by the skin of our teeth (we threatened forced lovingly cajoled the boys into riding 2 more miles, Jason rode the rest of the way home to get our other, woefully-inept-for-schlepping-bicycles, car, while I camped out at Subway with the boys, buying them “whatever you want — sandwich, chips, juice, yes, anything, everything, if you’ll just CHILL for a hot second, and then we removed the tires from the bikes, shoved them into the back of the Prius, piled three-to-a-seat up front and miraculously made it home) but it wasn’t quite the Mother’s Day I had in mind. Jason and I were frazzled the rest of the afternoon and even though our Honda is, well, ancient, and likely on it’s last legs, it still feels oddly unsettling to have your car stolen.

We’re fine. Everything’s fine. It’s just a car.

This morning I was thinking about my dad. He’s had early-onset Alzheimer’s for a few years now and we’ve had some time to get used to it. But you never really get used to it and I found out yesterday that he can’t play his guitar anymore. It’s not that his fingers no longer work. It isn’t that his body can’t do it. His body is perfectly normal. He just can’t remember how. He looks at the instrument he has strummed for decades and doesn’t know what to do with it.

He’s always played the guitar. Mostly church music — his favorite. I can see him now in my mind’s eye in so many iterations — playing at church, playing while we caroled at the convalescent home, crooning Bob Dylan ballads, accompanying my sister as she played the piano, teasing my mom as he played, “I’m the King Bee, baby! Buzzin’ ’round your hive,” or jamming for us kids, singing “Grandma’s Feather Bed.” I remember the night before my sister’s wedding, after the rehearsal dinner and all the pre-wedding festivities ended, my dad and sister came home and played together one last time before she left home for good, both of them weeping.

And now he can’t play anymore. I thought of this and I thought of the people dying in Gaza, of Grandpa Ken (Jason’s surrogate dad) who left our house for a short trip back to Denver and is now on hospice alone in Colorado, and of living for more than eight thousand hours with multiple sclerosis. I looked out our window at the birch trees newly re-leafed, inhaled slowly and said to God, “There is so much sadness.” And immediately, before I had even exhaled, I heard this: “Yes. And there is so much beauty.”

I sat awhile, gazing at the trees that are so brilliantly green this time of year, watching the birds swoop and dance, the mama duck and her two chicks making their way across the water. So much sadness. So much beauty. And so much of life seems to be about letting the one fill you so the other doesn’t crush you completely.

Our car was stolen on Sunday. But before that I sat at our kitchen table encircled by my people. My beloveds. They made me breakfast and gave me handmade bookmarks of pressed flowers. We rode our bikes in the sunshine and danced at the water’s edge.

Was there sadness? There was. I knew that my dad probably didn’t remember it was Mother’s Day and my mom likely wasn’t having a breakfast like mine. I knew that Jason was worried about my health after a rough week and trying not to show it as he eyed me warily on my bike. I knew that Grandpa Ken was alone. And then our dumb car was stolen.

But even as I was riding those extra two miles and our youngest wept the bitter tears of exhaustion while our oldest yelled at him to cut it out already, even as my plans for the afternoon evaporated and I knew that Jason’s poor cortisol levels were going through the roof, I happened to look up from my handlebars and saw the trees practically shoving each other out of the way to fill my view with more green than I would have thought possible on the path in front of me. I saw Jason’s hand on Isaiah’s back, helping him up the hill as they rode along. I saw Gryffin turn his head to make sure I was still behind him. And I thought, “Oh, God, it really is so, so beautiful.”


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Nancy Myers Rust

Writing about life & the intersections of culture, race, gender and faith. @NancyRust,