I bump my hip against the door of the local Starbucks. My hands are full. Sick baby in one hand, laptop bag in the other. I am hoping to get some work done. She has wanted nothing more than to lay with her head against my chest since three o’clock the previous morning. I need some coffee and a change of scenery. Being home reminds me I took the day off of work to take the baby to the pediatrician.When I am home I constantly check the time against the group of students who are in my room and wonder whether or not my presence is strong enough to control them even when I am not there.
The Seasonal drinks are available and the Christmas music is blaring. I order a peppermint mocha as tall as my forearm. My cup invites me to Rekindle and then in parentheses underneath (joy). I take a sip to test the temperature and watch as the baby squirts her juice box all over the industrial cement floor. I go to get napkins before anyone slips on the puddle. How exactly, I wonder, is a 6 dollar mocha supposed to fill my life with joy? All it does is give me a stomach ache.
I am away from my babies when I hear about the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. I am in my grandmother’s condo where the ones my grandfather left are gathering together. We come to make sure that Grandma isn’t grieving alone….it is certainly convenient that this then makes us less alone. We try to talk about it quietly because there are babies in the room, my cousin Kim’s babies, who are old enough to hear but not understand. Maybe they should shoo me out of the room too. It seems I am not yet old enough to understand.
My sister gets in later that night and the three of us, John’s girls is generally how the family refers to us, are together and need to practice the hymn we are singing for Grandpa’s funeral.
This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior all the day lo-o-ong.
The TV is muted, but the images are not and we are standing together singing about perfection, and rest, and being happy and blessed and loved and in our savior’s arms and there are stills of weeping mothers with empty arms flashing across the screen. Em can’t take it any more and weeps in the bathroom looking for tissues. I sing, broken and through my tears, and Jill demands that we not leave her hanging like that later in the church in front of everyone. We promise we won’t, we try hard to mean it.
I get back into my classroom and am suddenly very grateful that I have a windowless book room attached. I am also aware that my room has three potential entry points if the people on the other side forget to close the doors behind them. I make sure my key can lock those doors. I jump every time one of my students comes in or out, even if I told them too. The PTA president chokes up as she thanks us for what we do every day and I feel the weight of holding other people’s babes in my care. Even for an hour at a time, even when some of them look almost grown, they still belong to someone who would call them “my baby.”
I stand outside a Starbucks in New York City as we wait for the shuttle to La Guardia. I see the words on the window rekindle (joy). I am struck by just how ludicrous it is that someone would claim to sell joy. I am struck by how much I wish the claim were true. All my griefs mix together and settle into a cold, dull ache. I consider going inside for a peppermint mocha the size of my fore arm, but I already have the stomach ache.
I am longing for a joy the size of a venti peppermint mocha. One that is familiar and delicious. A joy I can hold in both hands and feel the warmth of it before I even consume it. This is not the joy I have this season. I can feel my heart longing and groaning for the joy that I am promised, praying desperately “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” I am clinging to the elusive sliver of the promise of joy, the promise that was bought in the savior incarnate, in the birth I am celebrating, in the promise I whisper “this is not the end.”
I light a tiny candle on my kitchen table for joy. I sing into the darkness even when I am sure it is pointless. I hug my babies and check to see that I can lock my doors. I cry with my grandmother. I look for the joy that Christ has promised despite all that is this world. I promise not to lose that joy. I try hard to mean it.