Stories change in an instant. Last Monday, my teenage nephew scaled a climbing wall like he’d done 5 times that morning and scores of times before, only this time he wasn’t strapped in properly, and from a height of 42 feet, he let go. His life has changed forever. I’m at once overwhelmed by the miracle of his life and the heartache of the fight that has been given him to fight.
I’m reminded of when my dad died, thinking, “Wait – this is how it ends?” We had a complex relationship, and I had imagined the story of his life and and mine playing out in many ways – some good, some bad – but never the way that it actually did, with a sudden period in mid sentence. As with my nephew, it wasn’t the story I had prepared for.
Sometimes your script just gets swapped out for another one, and it takes some adjusting to realize that you’re actually in an entirely different narrative than you thought you were. This happened again last Sunday when I woke up 15 days into my 16 day wait and took a pregnancy test. There was a plus sign. A plus sign. I must have stared at it for five minutes in total shock before the tears came. In my dance between cultivating hope and hedging my expectations, I had been telling myself over and over that this only had a 15% chance of working. I didn’t realize how much hedging I’d been doing until I was holding that plastic stick in my hand. In shock, and in awe. I’d held out hope that one day I would be pregnant, but I was settled in for a good, long fight and expected it to be years down the road. And even now, with symptoms and blood tests confirming that it’s real, I’m wondering if this is really my script. Waiting for that first trimester mark, then the viability mark, then until I’m holding a child in my arms.
And then I think one day my child will be scaling climbing walls – and driving on freeways, and crossing the street. And I realize that I have no control over my story or anyone else’s. And maybe this whole sense of trajectory we have is pure illusion. We may think we know where we’re headed, but we’re flying blind, with tragedy and bliss careening into us like meteors, battering us, shaping us, dictating our course.
To live – and to love – is to be constantly, desperately vulnerable. Because we all walk around in such fragile wrapping – some ligaments and sinews that gingerly connect body to soul – hearts that sometimes stop abruptly, spines that shatter on impact. It’s a terrifying business, but we can do nothing to protect ourselves from it. Nor should we. For as surely as there are Mondays when it feels like the earth has collapsed, there are Sundays when we are flooded with unexpected, unspeakable joy.
And with unwavering consistency, I have found that even in the worst script changes, the ones you don’t think you’ll recover from, there is beauty, there is hope, and there are unexpected victories. They’re set against a different backdrop, but they are often the sweeter for their barren surroundings. This is one reason I believe my fragile craft is somehow headed home. So I unguard my heart to embrace the life that is growing in me even as I struggle with the fragile and uncertain nature of life. I believe there are forces at work for my good, whether in tragedy or in joy. And my heart may break, but it will mend. And sometimes it will overflow.