My husband’s out of town this week and we’ve now made it through one time change, one school day (we were thirty minutes late, but who’s judging?), six meals, one stopped-up toilet, one new battery on the fire alarm, and two whole days without him.
There’s this weird feeling I have when I’m home with the kids by myself. I feel like someone’s going to figure me out, realize that I’m just pretending to be a grownup. Do I really know how to be a mother? Do I really know how to make sure my kindergartener does his homework and that the boys’ fingernails aren’t caked in dirt? Can I get them to bed again, two nights in a row?
It’s funny I think this way. I mean, I’m a work-from-home-mom. I’m the primary caregiver. My husband leaves the house early in the morning and doesn’t come back till dinnertime. I am always the one who gets them to school. I’m the one who gets most meals on the table. I’m the homework overseer. So why do I feel so exposed, so lonely in these tasks when he’s gone?
Last night I cleaned the bathroom and watched a two-week old episode of The Tonight Show. For the past several weeks, I’ve been practicing a no-computer after nine o’clock rule and it’s even harder this week in my lonely house at night. What’s a girl supposed to do at 9pm if she’s alone and can’t work? Answer: She scrubs the toilet.
I did. I scrubbed and disinfected. I made that room shine. I’ve been wondering what it is about loneliness and Lent that seem to go hand in hand—that forced awareness of our frailty that hangs over everything.
I scrub the toilet. I feel alone. I see something of myself in that moment, a longing for relationship, of course. But more than that, a realization that this loneliness is always there, right under the surface. We need each other and we can never get enough of one another. We hold on to each other but we separate again, move as single bodies through the world.
While I scrape the dried toothpaste from the sink I think of bedtime with the boys an hour before, how I lay on the bottom bunk beside my littlest and we sang together that James Taylor song, “Sweet Baby James.” He voiced his own version of the lyrics and when we finished his shadow rose above my face. He pressed his forehead to mine.“Mama, I gonna give you a hug and a kiss and then say ‘Goodnight’ and say ‘Peace.’” And that’s what he did. That’s the script in his life. That’s how he’s learned to leave the world each night and fall into his own dark rest. He sings, he hugs, he kisses, he goes in peace.
And I whisper the word to both my boys when I leave their room. Peace, little boys I love, I say.
I’m finally getting around to reading the second book in Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, and I’m finding comfort in its slow moving simplicity. Last night, after scrubbing the bathroom, I lay in my bed and read L’Engle’s thoughts about death. How her grandfather, in his most aged and senile state, asked L’Engle’s mother “When I die, who is going to go with me?”
The answer, of course, is no one.
Death is the journey we must make alone. And faith in Jesus is the hope that our lonely journey brings us to a new world, a restored body, the kind of relational wholeness we always imagined was possible.
Until then, maybe loneliness is a good practice in death. Maybe Lent is the best time to close the computer, scrub the toilet, and remember that I am dust and I will return to the dust I came from. And all these people I love and live my life beside are gifts. The faces I touch, the lips I kiss. The arms that welcome me daily into my life.
This week is my invitation to be lonely, to remember how the ache I feel for connection is woven deep into all of us. We are all lone bodies passing by one another, looking for peace. Longing to be less alone. Only God can make that right.
It’s a gift to remember.