And I am sorry.
I wanted to give you metaphors that sing, but I have only this empty page and a blinking cursor. I feel embarrassed by this blank page, as if it exposes something of which I am deeply ashamed. It seems to matter more than a blank page should.
This page is my life, I think. I rush and worry, trying to fill it up with words. I am terrified that I might run out of words.
Typically, I fill my empty pages quickly. So quickly, in fact, I rarely notice their emptiness. That this page has stayed blank longer than most, I blame on my ragged throat and tissue-burned nose. I blame it on my flexible work-from-home husband who was not, this week at least, able to work from home. I blame it on the baby girl whose cough matches my own.
She knows the baby signs for “milk” and “more” and “banana” but not for “sick.” I have to read it in the way she clings to me, the way she asks for food then tosses it down, the way she makes it impossible for me to live. Because isn’t my life composed of tasks ticked off, essays written, deadlines met? Which means today my life is not being lived. It means today this essay is not being written.
Or is it?
What if life is the sum, not only of tasks accomplished in a day, but also the empty spaces in between? What if our stories are written, not only in words, but in silence?
The four-year-old is lost in a Sesame Street haze when the baby finally settles on my chest. Do I hold her while she sleeps? Or do I risk moving her to the crib so I can get busy, get working, get living?
I sit a while longer, undecided, and I remember a framed print that used to hang in my grandmother’s farmhouse. It showed a mother in a rocking chair, a sleeping baby on her chest, and it said Quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep / I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
If it’s my choice to make, I will always choose a peacefully sleeping baby over cobwebs and dust. But that’s a false choice, isn’t it? I can only wish life were so simple. There are babies asking to be held, lunches demanding to be made, children telling me they don’t want to go to school, and teachers expecting them on time. And that is only the life lived in the seconds it takes to fill my first cup of coffee.
Perhaps it isn’t only the choice to live differently that is at stake (to choose the sleeping babies that matter over the dust that doesn’t). Perhaps it is also the choice to see my life whole. To see that life is beautiful words and quiet pages.
I have looked at my life as a string of items checked and jobs accomplished. Looking ahead, I imagine everything still to do and yet to complete. But what if life is all of those things and everything that happens in between? The words written as well as the pauses, the gaps, the losses, the missteps, and the wanderings?
Do the blank pages also have their stories to tell?
I try to hold the baby perfectly still as I rise from my chair. Her eyes snap open, and her fist finds my ear. I accept that this nap will happen in my arms or not at all. We settle back together, and I strain to hear the words written on this empty moment.
Words like grace and gift. Words like weakness. Words like waiting.
Words that just might, someday, add up to something beautiful.