Pretty soon you will have a name (you do already, but that’s our secret…) and you will get your monthly missives here just like your big brother and big sister. But today I am thinking about you, thinking how one month from this very hour we will be holding you for the first time. I am thinking about you because this week is a landmark for our family – one which we have worked hard for, almost since we first heard of you.
When your brother and your sister were where you are now I used to write to them. With Jacob I wrote often. It was my therapy. Pregnancy is distracting for a first-time mom. With Meredith I wrote a few times, but not so much because I needed it for me. I just wanted to say things to her. With you… Well, little boy, I thought I’d write to you, too. And I did, once. This is what I wrote:
28 Sep 14, 7:00 a.m. Dear Baby,
I am pretty sure you are real because of this headache that intruded through my sleep all night and hasn’t left with the morning. I am pretty sure you are real because of the gassy belly and the sleepy fatigue and the Stupid Factor. I melted my favorite plastic lid all over bread dough on Saturday. I am pretty sure you are real even though the early-response pregnancy test I took yesterday was negative. I’ll try again in a few more days, especially if this headache doesn’t give it a rest. I hope I’m right and I just have to say for now: I love you.
And that was all. I was surprised just now to find that I’d never gone back to that document to say more along the way. I’ve thought a lot and perhaps those things will all seep into these first letters I write you this summer as we get to know each other.
For now, though, about that landmark: This week we are moving into our new house. This is uniquely momentous for us because it feels not just like changing homes but like achieving home. I have not felt as though we have had “home” for several months now. We bounce back and forth between two up-ended dwellings. On almost every level, we’ve suspended those things that we think of as “life” since Christmas when we began renovating a house for us to live in. We thought it would take less time, absorb us less drastically, be completed sooner and more completely. So as I’ve carted pillows and blankets back and forth, and sometimes the sleeping toddlers that belong to them, too; as I’ve fed my family hummus and crackers on paper napkins and washed them up with baby wipes for who knows how many meals; as I’ve missed the days of setting a table to welcome friends to it and the rhythm of waking to the same basic human necessities every morning, working a few hours and sitting down satisfied by 10:00 to read story books with the house in order, clean and peaceful…. As I’ve done all of this I’ve been waiting. Working and waiting, like a marathon that isn’t over yet. Maybe like a marathon that isn’t over yet and that keeps having its mileage reset. Maybe like a marathon that you run when you’re pregnant, which is inadvisable, to say the least.
I’ve been waiting for home, waiting for you, waiting for that magical moment when where we belong and how we live looks like what we love again. When I don’t clarify every sentence to Jacob & Meredith with an adjective: “Old house? or New house?” This week we get to move into our new house. We will tape plastic over the stairway leading to the incomplete basement and we will adjust to life at home, and to the beautiful reality that we actually have “home” again. I don’t think I would ever be able to verbalize how deeply I am craving that peace and calm and beauty. Maybe someday you will have a wife and she will be pregnant and then you can imagine what it is we did the year you were born and how it would’ve felt and then maybe you’ll know.
One day this spring a house on Nancy Street triggered a long train of thought for me. I was walking with Meredith in the stroller, carrying lunch from our “Old House” to our “New House” to share with Daddy & Jacob. At Merry’s request, I was singing, and it was her song: Shall We Gather At the River. As I admired this one house and imagined the pride its owners take in the work they’ve done to make it lovely (I know about this work now) I was singing “Soon we’ll reach the shining river. Soon our pilgrimage will cease.”
I’d never heard those words quite so loudly before. For many years I’ve thought of the nature of the Christian life as pilgrimage. As journey, to be perfectly cliche. I published an album of piano music five years ago and it was subtitled “Meditations of Hopeful Christian Pilgrim.” Pilgrimage is all I know of life. Not being there yet. It’s the way we experience God. The way we experience reality. It is about longing and waiting and trudging. In the best days, hoping. It is a good concept, and I think it’s easy to think it’s all there is.
But there’s this thing called “Home” too. It’s that thing that gripped my imagination as a deeply struggling college student just before Daddy & I met. I held tight to it: “There shall I find a settled rest while others go and come. No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Those words were my mantra for a long time and I pressed so much out of that elusive idea of “home” and what it could possibly mean. I was only beginning to learn it then, mostly learning that I didn’t know, and I suspect I’m still only beginning.
The reality is, there is a destination for this pilgrimage – a reality we are hoping towards. Pilgrimage, as good and noble as it is, as much as we name it a good thing and define our Christian experience by it – it will be done someday. It will cease.
I get lost in my head thinking about that.
Pilgrimage, done. Home, attained.
I have no category for that.
But maybe now I do, now on the eve of rooting ourselves into this new space and re-establishing the life we’ve suspended for so many months. I can see how attaining home and retiring pilgrimage is just what a soul most wants. I haven’t stopped pondering this in these crazy months, and last night as Jacob & Meredith & I took our first walk in our new neighborhood, leaving the house with bike and stroller just long enough to wander a few blocks and wander back, that purposeless activity we call “taking a walk…” As we walked I thought of Bilbo & Frodo and There And Back Again and how I want my children to experience these things – both pilgrimage and home.
This week we are going home, not just going home, but attaining home. Achieving it. Creating it. And I’m thankful that it’s becoming a reality before you arrive. Next month we’ll bring you home and hopefully the chaos that we’ve experienced since we first heard your heartbeat will be a story to tell – our history, but not our present anymore. But that story is another story for another month.
I love you.