Her soft hands, so fresh from womb, only a few years into this journey called life, placed one smooth-sided block atop another. Her black eyes–steeled flint in focus–worked the masterpiece in the child’s mind. When the final block was placed, pinnacle of the preschool room, she rested hands on lap and breathed the sweet release of the creative and her eyes shone with the single, satisfying comprehnsion: perfection.
But it would not last.
Nothing we build with hands and smooth-stoned concentration truly lasts.
In a moment, the ziggurat toppled as another girl’s glistening buckle-strapped Mary Janes marched through the valley of perfection. Her single-minded goal was the dolly resting non-chalant in the pink plastic shopping cart. Her single thought? Mine.
Wails from the builder-girl. Dolly-snatcher trips, lands face first on a Barbie car. Chaos and madness.
And no one got what they wanted.
Crying for comfort, for redemption, for justice they both came to me. I was the fair judge, the lord-of-the-preschool, the One who could set it all aright.
But not really. I offered sympathy in the form of pats, fished for a tissue to clear the tears and snot that threatened to drip on shiny shoes, and performed the magical sleight-of-hand in a caregivers arsenal: Distraction.
And I think of that time when the madwoman overtook me.
America shuddered in terror as the death-count grew. I sat in September-flowered cloister, listening to the silence of the skies bereft of aircraft and prayed. For them, the families, the newly deployed who would come home riddled with holes and problems and missing limbs.
And I prayed for me. Little guilty prayers. Because my life appeared to be a tower of smooth-sided building blocks, carefully placed, wonderfully enjoyed. And I was the princess inside the tower: middle class, happy family, two children-boy and girl- healthy and bright, man by my side.
But the tower was tottering. Joy had fled like the languid pre-Labor Day summer. There was a crisp taste of destruction in the fall air and a war of terror battling in my chest, in my mind. It was Lilliputian in comparison, I knew, I know, but full-scale warfare was happening within me. The A-bomb might drop at any moment and leave me ruined. And I was terrified.
We had lost thousands in bad investments, victimized by people we thought we could trust. We were upside down in real-estate debt. And as punctuation to the run-on sentence that threatened to destroy us: a baby unborn, lost before we met.
Even the unborn were unsafe.
And then, as school began and the calendar turned to fresh September, I missed my period. Yes. No. Could I be?
The miscarriage and pregnancy and ensuing tide of hormones ground me down into the cave where I met the madwoman, wild-eyed hermit of fear. She ran naked and filthy in the realm of my unkempt soul and taunted me and my perceived security. And my wails to God became all about me and my fear.
I was afraid of anthrax and small pox. Vivid dreams of my children and new infant, poxed and oozing, startled me awake gasping. I stumbled to the bathroom for a drink, a breath of air to shake the cold-sweat terror off my back.
And I saw her in the mirror: eyes wide and flaming, fevered with fear; hair everywhere framing gray skin in the moonlit room.
In an instant I flicked on the light and saw only me. Tired me. Sad little me. Wearing pajamas and not in tattered rags like some female Smegol. I took a long draught of water straight from the stream and stumbled to bed.
Next day, I pulled the plug on the cable TV– right out of the wall. I stopped answering the phone and never got the mail from the box beside our quiet suburban street.
I dug trenches and hunkered down, an anchorite of the soul. Weaponless, I had to wait out the battle and pray I survived. I prayed feeble prayers that this child within me didn’t come out touched by the darkness, like a baby Edgar Allan Poe. I asked that she come through me unscathed, that being in the womb of a near-crazy lady might not affect her.
I sank into my bed as the autumn sun stretched golden on the garden, exhausted from the ministrations of my daily activities. I still cooked dinner, pushed my children on swings flying at the park, made home-made playdough with food coloring and glitter mixed in. I planted flower bulbs in still-soft soil. I acted out the scenes of life and hope, but the madwoman within, a parasite, sucked me dry.
I ran to God nightly begging my pauper’s prayer: save me from this fear, please, take it from me!
The silent answer, night after night. Nothing.
I talked with my obstetrician. He set my file down, leaned on the counter facing me and with all I had left in me, I believed he was going to say, “Alyssa, there’s no hope for you.”
Instead, he said these words, “I think we could give you something for the anxiety, but first I want you to think about something: Remember what you know. Remember Who you know, and give into that. See if that helps.”
Soft pat on my knee and the enlightened guru disappeared into the mist of the office hallway.
Who I know.
What I know.
The next morning, while running the shower too long, I leaned against the wall and knew my prayers had been the broken ramblings of the spiritually insane. With clarity of spirit, like the possessed swept clean I said, “Forgive me Lord, for my fear. Forgive this obsession with destruction that I built into an idol. Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and restore unto me the joy of your salvation. I confess my sin of fear.”
The pelting water ran cold and the madwoman ran, her screams diminished by the birdsong at my window.
From the shower stepped a new person, free and baptized in the waters of confession.
“The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Friend, He who knew no sin became sin for you. He is our peace. He can save us from the madness. He already has. Do you know him?
I am broken and spilling prayers for you today.
Linked with Peter Pollack’s One Word