Oh, How We Have Lived

Life on Earth is ending, Aurora, when yours only just began.

Our morning started like any other: me, cocooned in cotton but so very free—because there you were, curled up beside me. Slipping out of bed, I tiptoed to the kitchen to prepare your breakfast. Outside, snow spiraled through the late-December air. Peering through the frosted window, I smiled, reveling in the thought of us, living inside of our own personal snow globe. As I reached for the remote control to turn on the weather channel, my mind danced with visions of the day ahead. Maybe we’d go sledding in the park, or watch the local boys play ice hockey on the lake. The day was ours. The world was ours.

But—EMERGENCY ALERT—there was no five-day forecast.

I had thought I would have a lifetime with you. Instead, we have one day.

***

You’re too young to understand, Aurora, but some things are not meant to have expiration dates. Milk has an expiration date—but the world, my dear, should not. (And especially, not our world. Not us.)

And so, as my bowl shattered to the kitchen floor this morning, sending Honey Nut Cheerios and hope scattering across the hardwood, my only thought was of you.

Stepping over the ceramic shards, I traced my way back to the bedroom—watched your eyelids flutter open, my name form on your lips. Bathed in golden morning light, you beamed up at me like I was God. You are too young to know the difference, sweetheart—and in that moment, I found myself wishing that you were right.

I wished that I could save you.

Wrapping you tight in your woolen blanket and hugging you to my chest, I brought us outside to the front porch swing that your daddy once built. Rocking back and forth on the red pinewood, as we had hundreds of times before, I sat with you, listening to the lullaby of the world around us. The whistling of the wind. The crying of the crows. The silence of the snow. Barefoot, I rocked and rocked, until I was completely numb.

You were quiet, your blue eyes wide. I couldn’t help but wonder if you knew.

***

It’s noon now. Time has never waited for us, not even when the world is ending.

When you awaken from your morning nap, I bundle you up and hold your teeny hand as we walk out to the front yard. The pink pom-pom on your hat bounces up and down as you skip down the front steps—1,2,3—then plop down into the nearest snow bank. Arms flailing up and down in the freshly fallen powder, you imprint yourself in my mind forever. You are as pure as the sugar-white snow.

You are not making angels, Aurora—you are one.

***

It is our last night on Earth. I bundle you up one last time and bring you to the back deck, where we lay cuddled beneath woolen blankets, eyes peeking out from under our winter caps. It is cold out here, Aurora—it is so very, very cold. But the night is perfectly quiet, and I need you here with me. I need you to see this.

Pointing to the sky, I watch your eyes widen in wonder.

According to Norse mythology, the aurora borealis was a fire bridge to the sky— handcrafted by the gods themselves. The Inuit, in the night sky’s shimmering waves of light, saw their ancestor’s spirits dancing their way through the atmosphere. The aurora has mystified man for all of time.

You are a miracle, my child.

A little more than three and a half years ago, your father and I conceived you under this very sky. Camped out beneath the aurora, we knew that your daddy was dying—that he would not live to see my delivery date. But staring up at the magic above us, we couldn’t help but want some of our own. And so, we made you. Our precious Aurora.

Scientists say that auroras are formed by the collision of the right atoms at the right altitude at the right time.

It was the right time. I will never regret you for a moment.

In my ninth month of pregnancy, when my days and nights were a murky muddle of baby pink and funeral black, I questioned my decision. I wondered if, while lying in the delivery bed with a baby at my breast whose eyes reminded me of the man no longer by my side, I would go back on my word. But the moment I first saw you, Aurora, I knew. You are worth the pain. Life is worth the pain. My baby, you are loved. You are love.

I wish you could have met your daddy. I wish that, while you were growing inside of me, he wasn’t dying beside me.

Your daddy was a religious man. When night fell and reality was too dark for the both of us, he would cradle me in his frail arms, kiss my belly, and tell me not to worry—that soon after his soul went up to heaven, yours would come down to Earth.

I wonder what your daddy would say now. Maybe he’d say that this is God bringing us all back together—that tomorrow, our family will meet once more in the ever-changing colors of the sky. But I have never believed in heaven, baby. I have only ever known there to be one world.

Your daddy and I used to whisper about religion, on those same nights when we were alone and cloaked in darkness. “Why does there need to be a larger meaning?” I’d ask him. “Can’t we create meaning for ourselves, right now?”

Maybe your dad is right—maybe there is a method to the madness. Or, maybe, madness is induced by the search for a method. Maybe love is the only method.

Swiveling my head, I turn to gaze into your eyes. Blue orbs flecked with green—an Earth in miniature. Born from science, born from wonder, you transcend both. You are beyond explanation.

A world of your own.

***

Do you know how many nights we have sat together, just as we are right now? I lay here and I am transported back to summer, to the night that we stargazed on your father’s birthday under the mid-July sky. As you tilted your head back and played connect-the-dots—“Look, Mama, look! A spoon!”—I connected the stars right back down to you: a galaxy of wonder, in and of yourself.

You have always been your mother’s daughter—ever the scientist, learning the world through an endless string of Who-What-When-Where-Whys. “Why are they yellow?” you used to ask me, panting, breathless, as you played firefly-freeze-tag in the backyard. The first time you asked about your daddy, though, you learned that some questions defy logic.

I think about this now, as I gaze up at the sky.

Why? Why now, when you are not yet old enough to fully know the world you are being taken from? You have not yet walked down the aisle; you have not yet even walked into a kindergarten classroom. Most parents teach their children that it’s “not the end of the world.” How am I supposed to do the opposite?

The night is still and quiet, as if the world is holding its breath and counting down to zero. I don’t know the answers, Aurora. But I do know you.

You are SunnyD and scraped knees, LEGOs and Spaghetti O’s, stuffed animals and stuffy noses, little hands and laughter. You are butterfly clips and sparkly scrunchies, freckles and curly brown hair—his curly brown hair. You are love; you are loss. You are you. And nothing in—or after—the world can take this from you.

You may only be three years old, Aurora, but you have lived completely. The wonder in your eyes as you wave goodnight to the Man on the Moon. Your lips, pursed into the perfect O as you blow on dandelions in the front lawn. The endless grass- and Crayola- and spaghetti-stains on your clothes. You have lived.

My world began with a whimper—you, red-faced and squealing in the delivery room—and will end with a bang. You have cried and I have cradled you; you have slept in your cradle and I have cried. Together, we have lived.

Oh, how we have lived.

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