Today was hard. It started with the ordinary – getting up, time with God, then the mindless meander to the closet to pick a suit. I’m a TV anchor so one would think I take great care in choosing the day’s clothing, shoes, and accessories. Nope. When I wake up tired – which is most of the time – the rules are simple: If it’s clean and doesn’t need ironing, it’s a keeper.
Ethan isn’t a morning person. After I’ve told him on average five times to put on his jeans and sweatshirt, he’ll do it, albeit very slowly. This morning was no different. And when I told him four times to brush his teeth and he still stood making faces in the mirror, I’d had it. ”Ethan,” I said firmly, “brush your teeth - now.”
“Okay!” he answered with all the attitude an 8-year old can muster.
And that’s when I lost it. “No, Ethan, it’s not okay! It’s not okay that I have to tell you to do something a dozen times before it’s done. That’s not okay!” I was screaming. My voice was hoarse and intermittently shrill, and it scared him. The look of hurt on his sweet, round face made my heart ache. Immediately I knew that all my worry, my tension, my fear, my repressed rage had been unleashed on my little boy.
We both were quiet. In the car we reviewed math rules for his test. He remembered nothing – even though we’d spent hours studying this weekend. I stopped in front of the school, took a deep breath, and told him we needed to pray. He was still angry and reluctantly took my hand. I asked God to forgive us both and help him with his test. I asked Him to calm and guide my little boy in school. And then I looked Ethan in the eye and told him I loved him. He mumbled, “love you too,” and shuffled into school.
The drive to work was brutal. I understood why our morning had been so difficult, and it had nothing to do with Ethan. I had watched CNN Monday evening and learned that Elizabeth Edwards was gravely ill. And the reality of what I’m battling settled on me like a thick, unyielding fog. Her outcome is what every breast cancer patient fears – a remission then a recalcitrant recurrance which slowly takes over lungs, liver, bones, and brain – stealing away a mother of young children. I thought about Elizabeth all evening – dreamt of her last night – and the fear that she is me was everpresent as I dressed, as I brushed my teeth, as a screamed at the child I love most in the world. When I told him, “It’s not okay,” I wasn’t talking about the fact he was being annoyingly 8. I was screaming because it’s not okay that I’m sick; it’s not okay that I might not be here to hold, comfort, and teach him; it’s not okay that he may not have a mother to guide him into manhood. It’s not okay that I may not meet his first girlfriend, or celebrate his graduation, or cry at his wedding. The ugly, mean whole of it is not okay.
I cried all the way to work - I wailed - that hard, heaving, ugly cry. Other motorists must have thought I was nuts. By the time I got to work I had calmed down. I walked in and chatted about how cold it was and the snow we expect this weekend. I went about my day as though the fog of fear wasn’t there.
And then I anchored the 5:00 news. My producer got in my co-anchor’s ear to tell him that Elizabeth Edwards was dead. That’s how we started the show. My co-anchor ad-libbed the story, and that’s how I learned of her death – sitting on set - anchoring live TV. My eyes filled; my throat ached; I wanted to escape. I knew we were coming out to a 2-shot in seconds and I bit my inner cheeks, willing myself not to cry. I finished the show, but remember little of it.
It was exhausting. My body ached. And alone in my minivan, I was crying again – head throbbing – regretting the fact I’d promised Ethan’s music teacher that I’d meet her after work to help decorate for the school program on Thursday. But now I’m so glad I did. It was just the two of us in the school’s large cafeteria. She had Christmas music playing. She’s a beautiful spirit, warm and loving. She’s passionate about children, and she chatted excitedly about their program and all the kids had learned in preparation for it. And listening to her as we worked was music to my soul – the sweetness of it calmed me.
God has sent friends and co-workers so many times to soothe my spirit when I’m feeling dark and alone. I belong to an organization called Jack and Jill. We’re all mothers who focus on the educational and cultural enrichment of black children. And when those moms learned I had breast cancer, they became women warriors, rallying the troops, heading into battle with emails, spread sheets, and organizational skills like I’ve never seen. They’re bringing my family dinner for three months – an amazing gift. Monday night Ethan got home from swimming class to find dinner had been left for us. Inside was a little surprise for him, and he danced around like it was Christmas morning. My hope is his memories of my illness are not only the hardships, but also the unexpected blessings from earthly angels sent from God.
Even in times of hurt, and pain and fear, God is here – blessing, comforting, protecting. And so it is. God made good friends. God is good.