The past two months have been brutally unkind to me. I find myself undergoing some deeply painful, deeply personal “stuff,” and in many ways, unable to cope. I have cried a lifetime of tears so far in 2017, and asked myself dozens of unanswerable questions. I have called upon friends near and far to help me sort things out, and in their mercy they have heard me out and let me cry or rant or trail off in bewilderment. I have talked, and talked, and talked. I have taken up yoga with a vengeance, breathing fire on each exhale as if punishing myself and my body. I have stopped drinking alcohol. I have started praying. I rotate my checkbook between three very helpful therapists. I even planted a zucchini plant to keep my tomatoes and peppers company.

In the midst of it all, I have penned very few words. A few scattered journal entries and a few notes about talks I’d like to give or book chapters I yearn to write.

And then tonight, with the essence of Tuesday subsiding around me in a quiet house, with the cat asleep beside me and the children tucked in for the umpteenth time, I was greeted with this amazing TED talk by the one and only Anne Lamott. She said so many brilliant things but this is what took away my breath:

You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.

It didn’t stop there. In fact, the next thing she said is what I really needed to hear:

Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you,that it will fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of you. It can’t. It won’t. But writing can.

Writing can heal me. Writing can fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of me, whether anyone reads my words or not. Whether I share them on Facebook or keep them secret on this blog, whether I choose the scritch-scratch of the world’s best pen or the clicking of the keys, whether I retrace my steps or start over each time, whether my parents get ahold of each essay and publish for me (there really should be a special genre of “parent-published” literature, somewhere between self-published and blockbuster).

Writing can heal me.

In fact, Anne Lamott said, and I think this is the crux of it right here:

If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.

I had no idea. I mean, I first loved reading and writing for my own sake, but somewhere along the line (maybe winning a writing trophy in 8th grade, maybe that string of front-page college newspaper articles when I covered Student Political Affairs for The Stater, maybe when I blogged about my engagement, maybe when I started to blog for my job) it changed. It became something that had to be done to satisfy an “other.” A relentless, hungry “other” that wanted me to write but never let me enjoy it. A “should do” rather than what it was intended to be — oxygen for my soul.

Everything that has happened to me is mine to tell. This is an intoxicating, heady notion, full of power and righteousness and stark naked fear. Everything? Even those moments when I have been the bad guy in the story, or when I have failed on my quest as the heroine, or when it was just plain boring? Everything?


Musings from Seat 10D

One Thursday in the fall of 1999, I walked into a crowded lecture hall at Kent State University, intrigued and excited for my first Political Science class, and unsure what to expect. The professor was in the front of the room, pacing back and forth in faded jeans, sneakers, and a Calvin & Hobbes T-shirt. He had curly blonde hair, and glasses, and looked younger than we were. He finally spoke, and he said, “I know a lot of you are here because this class is required, and you think you are not interested in politics. But here’s the truth, and the reason we must all be interested in politics:

Politics determine who gets what, when, and how much.

Never have I felt that to be more true than when I fly on airplanes.

This week gave me five opportunities to get lost in thought about this very notion, as I bounced from Ohio to Kansas to D.C. and home again for business meetings.

A flight, to me, is the perfect microcosm of our planet. There we are, all 150 of us (let’s just say) and between all of us we have a limited amount of resources to go around. So let’s just say that the plane is stalled on the tarmac, indefinitely, and the pilot and crew are leaving us … as they disembark they say, “You’ve got everything here you could possibly need. Be good to each other!” And they seal the doors. We’ve all suspended our travel plans, so we aren’t under any duress or deadline, but no one is getting off either.

So there we are.

How do we decide who gets the snacks?

How do we prioritize the use of the bathrooms?

What do we do when one or two passengers turn up their music too loud?

What do we do if there are only 85 iPhone chargers on board? Do we share?

What do we do if someone gets sick?

How do we treat the parents of the littlest ones? Do we help them? Do we judge them?

In my thought experiment, we all take a little time and get to know each other. We ask questions, listen to stories, and learn everyone’s name. We create a community. We empower a leader to oversee our decisions about who gets what, when, and how much (because we know we cannot be trusted to always choose the right way on our own; after all, we don’t even have enough leg room! Those window shades only go up so far! Life is hard.)

In reality, we are all living together in a closed system, and we’re not here under duress or deadline–in fact we are here under love and wonder–but no one is getting out of here alive. We have a limited amount of resources we need to share. We have to take turns. We sometimes have to stop our selves from doing or saying or having what we want, so that others may do or say or have something they need.

And yet, with the doors of death firmly sealed around all of us at some future point, and no emergency exits available, we are painfully aware that human nature is not so generous. Much of human nature is primal, focused on providing survival for our self and our family first. As God was leaving us here, He knew this about us, and yet He still told us, just as the departing pilot and flight crew said, “You’ve got everything here you could possibly need. Be good to each other!”

We don’t naturally form community. We sit alone, side by side in the plane(t), and we form judgement about those around us. Without asking for names or stories, we make decisions about other people based on their skin color or sexual orientation or fashion choices. We act out those decisions when we fight for “our share” of the snacks, or when we argue that we should go to the bathroom first (for no overt reason, simply that we want what we want for ourselves and we want it now!) We are all guilty of this at times, even when we think we are not. There are entire systems at work that support our judgments and our privileges, even when we insist we don’t benefit from them.

These decisions are made by each of us in small ways every day. And the small ways add up.

And now we face a crisis of political leadership in which we have one candidate offering just his plain, small, fearful human nature as his entire credential. All he brings is his own tiny version of what the world should be like for himself and those around him. He is flagrantly offering on the outside what many of us are at times on the inside–judgmental, weak, tyrannical, fearful, unwilling to trust or sacrifice. In fact, he boasts about it, about the fact that with him, “What you see is what you get.” People are flocking to his banner, relieved to finally have someone who gives voice to this most base of our inner workings, someone who celebrates the imperfections of human nature.

And we have Hillary Clinton, who has proudly worked her whole life to learn and understand and shape the way the world treats everyone. She doesn’t make decisions with her primal human nature as her only guiding principle, she decides by aligning to the best of what human nature can be, but more importantly she works to make everyone–from major institutions to entire political parties–do the same. She would organize us, she would personally assure us that the littlest ones, the oldest ones, the sickest ones would come first, and she would rightfully admonish the strongest, richest, healthiest among us to step up and make sure it happens.

With whom would you rather be trapped on an airplane with no pending hope of the doors opening–Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Who would you trust to lead a group of people–yourself included–through whatever days we may all have ahead of us? Who can we turn to, to help us remember and live up to the advice of the departing pilot, “Be good to each other”?

We’re on the plane. The doors are closing. We can let one more person on board, one more person we’ve empowered to decide who gets what, when and how much.


The Other Woman’s Garden

We moved in on a Friday, the latest in a long string of warm non-winter days at the end of February. We didn’t even wear coats on moving day, as I recall. In fact, we had so little need for coats that winter, we packed them far too carefully away and still haven’t found them in a box or bin or laundry basket, some 7 months later.

Moving in at the end of winter is ideal, because you can hunker down inside for several weeks and weekends, unearthing odds and ends, setting up rooms, moving furniture and trying to decide where pictures hang, all without feeling guilty that you’re missing nice weather outside.

It also allows you to witness the gardens and flower beds come to life in real-time. You get to watch them wake up, and wonder what is peaking its little green head through the soil everywhere you look.

It’s a strangely intimate thing, to walk among the plants and bushes and literal fruits of another gardener’s labors. It feels like trespassing–even though the garden beds have transferred ownership–to survey the location of the herbs and reap the rewards of a forgotten compost-pile-turned-volunteer-tomato-bed.

Somehow it never felt so delicate to walk among the rooms where they had lived, or to look into mirrors that once reflected a different family’s faces, or to look from the windows and see the very same views of the world. It didn’t feel too close to see the dog house or the scratches on the fence from their pups, or to find out the nickname for the house held among the neighbors for years.

For me, the most tender discoveries were the patch of lemon mint, the hibiscus, and the raspberries. All three are in unsuspecting corners of our odd-shaped hexagon-fenced yard, and all three caught me off guard. All three remind me that someone else came before, choosing seeds and sun patterns (or perhaps not choosing at all!), and breaking this soil I now call my own.

I can’t wait to thank her.


One Red Sock, Or, We Must Dance in the Kitchen

I can’t stop thinking about bombs. Precisely because I’ve never heard or seen or worried about a bomb in real life. I’ve watched them in movies and on the news, dreamed of them at times in freaky nightmares, but never once actually for a moment worried that I or my family or my friends or my colleagues or even my enemies would ever see, hear, smell or fear an actual, real-life bomb.

Now, I know I’m out of practice with blogging, but I’ve read enough lately to know that at this point, I need to warn you: this post contains graphic images and triggering language. Read on with care.

Last week, my heart was ripped open and social media was set on fire by an image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, a Syrian casualty of an air strike, sitting in an ambulance with his tiny face numb from shock. I ached to hold him close, and sing to him, and tell him over and over that “It’s OK, darling. It’s OK.” I walked around with every nerve ending in my being acutely aware that my little son could have been this bloodied boy, but for the fate of a birthright no more earned than bestowed, no more requested than given, no more deserved than granted by amazing grace.

Tonight, I came home from work on a gorgeous late-summer day, and picked up my two-year-old son, whose deepest “trial” these days is being at daycare past the 8-hour-mark. I showered him with love and kisses, delighted in his stories and loud recountings of a busy day of play and silliness, scooped him up and buckled him into a secure car seat, then fed him a healthy snack and gave him a drink of filtered water while driving him to another safe, secure location–our local library. Not a single bomb.

There we played at the train table, checked out a few books, picked up the latest in his sister’s chapter book series, and leisurely and patiently checked out books not once, but twice, so he could make the computer beep. Not a single bomb.

We got home and ate dinner, and not a single bomb.We fussed at the kids to eat, we silently (and I do mean silently, lest we give ourselves away) cheered when they tasted their homemade fish tacos with veggies, and then my heroic husband hurried them out the door for a wagon ride to go visit a neighbor, on a civic mission of volunteerism and good will. On a peaceful street, where the clearest danger is a car going 29 mph. Not a single bomb.

I, too, volunteered–to bask in a silent, empty kitchen; just me, the dishes, and a Pandora station based on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I danced around the kitchen, the music far too loud for a suburban Monday night, the dishes not dirty enough for my dancing and singing and simple freedom from actual pain or fear or concern. I stopped in my own serenade long enough to realize, really breathe in, absorb and yet not-at-all-grasp the fact that there is a very slim chance of a bomb tonight.

My family came home–loud, tired, halfway-hyper and running on weeknight fumes. We shepherded the kids toward bed, and not a single bomb.

Then we folded laundry. The bleach white load, the one that mixes crisp sheets with tiny socks and lace-trimmed capri leggings, the one that worries me about whether the stains will come clean. Not a single bomb, and I spend my time worrying if the stains will come clean. This time, they did. My heroic husband was sorting the laundry and one tiny white sock slipped through his finger and landed in his full glass of red wine. One white sock, forever red. We laughed.

But then I remembered this article, the one about the seven images that DIDN’T go viral after Omran’s picture swept across our safe little screens. This article, which shows more children victimized by bombing and civil war and fear and injuries. It shows one little girl (named “Syria’s Cinderella”) and her single white sock, soaked red with blood from her injuries. I looked at our wine-soaked sock and I just broke apart at the kitchen table.

I don’t know the details of the war in Syria. I don’t know the half of it, I’m sure. I avoid the headlines from the Middle East and instead I worry about things that really do threaten my own family and our wellbeing–stress, processed food, harmful chemicals, UV rays, pollution. And then something like this happens, and breaks through my befuddled upper-class cloud of luxurious worries, and I have to stop.

I am a mother. I am a writer, a truth-teller, a seer. And I can’t stop saying what I see. What I see tonight is that, if you can feed your family and dance around your kitchen without a single bomb interrupting your little show, you have already lived a lifetime of love and luxury and leisure. You have already “made it.” You have already known the most amazing bliss there is to know, and you, like me, have probably missed it, worrying about the made-up stress and endless to-do list with which we distract ourselves from what is happening–really happening–to children just like ours around the world.

If this is a sermon, it’s directed at me. “Pay attention,” it begs me. “Look around.” “Breathe in another day–and night–without a bomb.”

Signs of Spring

Most people know “spring has sprung” when they see daffodils bloom, or the thermometer soar toward summer temperatures, or the clocks suddenly change, looking funny to us until we recover our equilibrium.

I know spring has arrived at The Yellow House of Dreams when I see these telltale signs:

Dirty footprints in the bathtub – There is just something magic about that week when our tender winter feet, liberated from boots, slippers and socks, first romp through grass or tingle in water from the hose. No one can resist. Suddenly our shower ritual shifts from morning to evening, when we are washing clean all the delicious spring soil and mulch and gravel, and tending to our blisters. And leaving behind the smudges that I will wipe from the tub with a smile, knowing it’s truly gardening season again.

A paper trail – We are lovers of words at our house: writers of notes, jotters of ideas, keepers of receipts, hoarders of ticket stubs and invitations, makers of lists. When the windows are open for the first few times in spring, we cannot bear to close them, even as raw winds bluster through the house with the wild tinge of winter but the faintest hint of warmth. And so it is not unusual to walk into a room and find paper scattered all over the floor, blown and drifted there by the spring winds we so adore.

The storage tub – Febreze spray – steam iron trifecta– My tank tops and T-shirts lay strewn across the spare bed, summer blouses and bikinis and shorts peeking over the top of a plastic storage tote. The steam iron sits ever-ready to erase the wrinkles from last year’s favorites, while the fabric spray allows me to skip a load of laundry. Hey, those blouses were clean when I put them away last fall, right? My sweaters sit in a pile, at easy reach when the temperatures drops again the week before Easter, but ready to be put away when there’s room in that bin. This whirlwind of wardrobe transition is a bit comical (and a lot indulgent) when you have the space for it. I have no idea what I’ll do when that spare bedroom belongs to a big-girl daughter someday but for now it is my dressing room and this time of year, it’s like a floor change-out at Bloomingdale’s.

The neighborhood soundtrack is back– On our block, there are 17 children under the age of six. There are many, many dogs; a fully-restored 1967 Chevelle; a souped-up Subaru Impreza Sport; an avid skateboarder with several like-minded friends; and right next door, a barbershop quartet leader who lives in harmony with his Sweet-Adeline-choir-medalist wife. All winter we hibernate in silence, as separated from these neighbors as if we were miles apart. Come warm weather, we all invade each other’s homes, the happy sounds of American life mingling together like the smell of fresh-cut grass and dryer sheets. We oogle over babies grown big, hair grown long (or grey), and overnight, our community is reborn and our friendships rekindled as we celebrate having weathered another year together.

Kissing Pavement

Last week, I was out for a walk with my two-and-a-half-year old daughter, Marisen. The sidewalks around our house are uneven at best, and she was wearing her pink Crocs (her “garden shoes”), which are frequently the cause of tumbles and spills. I was two steps ahead of her and I didn’t see or hear her trip. I just happened to glance back and see her falling toward the pavement in that strange slow-motion gravity of dream sequences and old cartoons. Marisen hit her already-skinned knees first, then her hands, and as she was losing her center of gravity and going over her hands with her face heading straight for the sidewalk, I heard her say, “Oh, nooooooooo!” Every muscle in her body was bracing for impact, and dreading the moment of pain, and yet she was pretty much powerless to stop it–as was I, frozen in horror at the sight. Luckily for Marisen, her chin stopped just a hair above the cement, and she was spared a full concrete facial. Her hands and knees were barely scraped, and she was revived with a few kisses and the promise of band-aids. I was so grateful she wasn’t really hurt, but what haunted my heart the most was her tiny little voice crying, “Oh, no!” as she fell. Her resistance was so natural, and so strong, and for her, it paid off.

I, on the other hand, have been falling down in excruciatingly slow motion for over a year, bracing my heart and mind and soul for impact, and screaming with every fiber of my well-controlled, Type-A, achievement-oriented being “Oh, noooooooo!” And I, unlike Marisen, finally hit the pavement in a heap of tears and loss and struggle. I have delayed the complete and utter breaking apart of my heart and my world, but I have not avoided it.

Sixteen months ago, I lost our second baby just as I entered the second trimester of my pregnancy. “Lost” seems like a funny word, like I misplaced her. “Miscarried” isn’t right either, since there wasn’t anything amiss with the way I carried her. The truth is, she died before she could even be born, and we’ll never know why.

Many times I have told and written the story of how we came to find out our baby girl was gone – the routine 15-week appointment that turned my heart and soul inside out forever.

In the days following that desolate moment, I denied my grief. Then I began to ignore it, then measure it, then analyze it, even describe it in a few journal entries and talks with friends. I masked it with work, travel, wine, shopping, and eating.

Most of all, I buried it under a newfound zeal for trying to get pregnant again – this obsession took over my life and filled up the empty part of my heart where my baby should have been, or where at least my grief for my baby should have been. When the one-year anniversary of my loss came around, I wrote this in my journal about my desire for another child:

Last night as a I blew out the candles on my 34th birthday cake, I totally forgot to make a birthday wish. I was fixated on my little daughter helping me blow, and trying not to blow any white candle wax across our new dining room table, and grateful that my hubby had brought home cake in the first place. I guess you could say I was completely in the moment – something precious and rare for me these days and especially this week.

Ten minutes or so later, Steve asked me, in charming spousal shorthand born of myriad hours of longform conversation, “So, birthday wish?”

I was suddenly and painfully returned to the not-in-the-moment, disembodied state of yearning in which I’ve lived the past 365 days. My wish: a baby. Well, to be brutally honest, despite the fact that living in the past is a futile and unhealthy way to spend one’s life, my truest wish is go back to this day last year, and forever erase the Dr’s words “I don’t have good news,” and instead welcome a healthy baby in the spring like we had planned.

But secondary to that loss, as a way of maintaining my humanity and my grip on any sort of human compassion and my claim to motherhood, I wished for another baby. Another chance. Another little someone to honor us and humble us and keep their precocious older sister in line. Another burst of hope in my heart, another round of fiercely protective feelings in my muscles, another opportunity to pass beyond and through myself and into the world through the fresh eyes of my child.

When we lost our baby at 15 weeks last year, just three days before Thanksgiving and the day after my birthday, I was hollowed out and yet strangely bouyed up by the idea that this was nothing more than a devastating pause in our childbearing. I was strong and positive and disarmingly convinced that we’d have another healthy baby as soon as menstrually possible, and the whole lost November (as I’d come to think of it) would disappear into the background of diapers and sleepless nights within just a few months. Well, 9 months, maybe 10 if my body needed a little time to adjust. But certainly soon. And CERTAINLY within this year. It never once crossed my mind (thank God) at that time that I’d face this milestone date without a newborn in my arms. I couldn’t even conceive of such an idea.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to conceive anything else all year. My strange elastic strength in the aftermath of our loss gave way about February. Doubt set in in March. Angst and fear? Probably around May. And over and over, every 26-28 days, I faced the painful realization that, once again, we were not getting our wish. Over and over I was knocked back to my knees in front of an unfamiliar altar of loss, disbelieving. Over and over again I lost that child, and the possibility of the next child, and the next, and the next. Over and over I watched the spacing between our daughter Marisen and her younger sibling grow ever wider, and I watched the chinks in the armor of our marriage get wider, too. Over and over I let myself trust that this time, this time was it, this time I felt different, this time I must be pregnant again.

As the months went by, my trust in my body waned and turned ugly – I grew angry with myself for each false monthly symptom. It’s bad enough to have sore breasts and blotchy skin and trouble sleeping, but add to that the resentment those things don’t mean what you wish they meant, and you get a pretty ferocious style of mood swings and emotional cycles that make average run-of-the-mill PMS look kinda charming.

At what point does a wish cross over the threshold into something more? Something almost tangible, something more along the lines of an imperative? Along the way this past year I have wished so hard and dreamed so much and doubted so fiercely that I simultaneously always believed and yet never believed. My wishing has become so much a part of me, it’s the background track to everything I do. It’s the ultimate double life I’ve managed to lead: all the while it LOOKS like I’m sitting in meetings and running errands and raising my kid, and in reality only half of me is there because beneath the surface I am practically vibrating with the desparate wish that consumes me.

So I guess the fact that I forgot to make a wish on my birthday candle is ok, since my wish has long since been registered with the universe and my wishfulness continues to bounce back each month for another go. But I sincerely hope I don’t have to blow out 35 candles without this year’s wish – no, I would say my life’s wish – coming true.

In all the ways I attempted to express, deal with, and work on my grief for 16 long months, I was missing one key thing: to feel my grief. To let the emptiness and sadness and pain just wash over me. To surrender my heart, allow it to break, and to let my family and my friends and God help me put the pieces back together. Believe me when I say I literally tried e v e r y t h i n g else. Along the way I knew something was wrong. I knew that the effort it was taking me to get up each day and go on living was abnormal. I felt like I was outrunning something so large and overwhelming, I must delay it or avoid ti at all costs.

Finally last week, I could neither run or hide any longer.

I was like a cornered wildcat. I was furiously mad, fighting for my survival against this horrible pain that threatened my heart. I was confrontational and mean. I was the smallest a person can be, attacking the people and things that would not let me be.

On the 4th Day of 2013

The puppy got a pine needle in his eye. He insists on lying under the Christmas tree (and eating the needles and ornaments!) despite being told “no” and being dragged out and being forced to give up the yummy Santa or reindeer he has found. Perhaps he knows he is a Christmas puppy. Perhaps he knows how he lifted our hearts on Christmas Eve when he arrived, despite being yelled at very loudly last night for knocking our three-year-old daughter into a table and bruising her back.

So this morning, I call him to my side while I sit at the breakfast table, in the rarest most extinct type of moment in which I am sitting down in quiet solitude for something to eat before rushing to work, and I hold his soft, warm head in my hands and look into his beautiful eye – the left eye, the one the vet told us would always look like it had pink-eye but didn’t, until three days later when she told us it did and we now put in drops twice a day – and gently lift out the pine needle.

He is grateful and I get a doggy smile. Then he rushes right back to the Christmas tree to claim his spot on the tree skirt.

Typing One-Handed

“I can’t wait for you and Steve to experience parenthood,” my sister Rachel said a few months ago.  “It’s such a hard feeling to describe, and I’m hoping the two of you, being writers, will be able to put it into words.”

At the time, Rachel’s comment seemed like part compliment and part assignment. I was flattered, and I thought I’d have no end of words to share to describe motherhood. In fact, I looked forward to talking about, and writing down, my feelings on being a mom.

Like so many things in my life B.C. (Before Children), I was wrong. Well, not wrong, just wholely unprepared. It turns out I had no idea how to describe what this feels like, until today. Marisen’s a month old now, and I have learned many tricks for moving through a day at home with her, one of which is to cuddle her in one arm and answer email or sort laundry or brush my teeth with the other hand.

I laughed when I realized that “Typing One-Handed” is the perfect progression for my musings on motherhood…from “Becoming Left-Handed” as a bride to “Becoming Write-Handed” as a very amateur writer to this, the ultimate juggling act, the most important feat of balance and dexterity, the most challenging test of one’s ability to live two lives at one time.

That’s what it feels like. It feels like I am now split in two, with my attention and brainpower and heart and soul divided so they can be shared with this tiny little girl. She is like a solar system unto herself and I revolve around her, even when I am trying to function like a normal adult individual. I feel like I now do everything one-handed, and everything in my life that is not Marisen gets just part of me.

We’ve done some “normal” things since she was born, like going out to dinner, to a party, to the mall, to the annual Tour of Homes. It’s just that now, it’s anything but normal. Or maybe I’m anything but normal.

Ordering dinner? Trying to do it while wondering if Marisen likes garlic. Buying a birthday gift? Shopping with the car seat over one arm, the diaper bag over the other, and wondering if I should sign Marisen’s name to the card. Reading a magazine? Listening for her breath, or a sweet little baby sound from Marisen’s bassinet. Talking to a friend? Attempting to keep up with the conversation while I worry that Marisen’s getting too warm in the stroller. Relaxing? Watching the clock, timing Marisen’s feedings, wondering when she’ll wake up hungry. Watching TV? Interrupting every commercial to brag about Marisen gaining weight or smiling or sleeping four hours.

Holding my daughter? Feeling like both my hands are full, both my “selves” become one again, and I breathe in a profound sense of wholeness to have my family in my arms.