Leaving the New Year dinner tonight, Max had a meltdown. He was crouched in the back of the car, on the floor, sobbing, his big boy seven year old body shaking from the force of his sorrow. He was crushed, laid out and completely undone because he was unable to hug our friend Jeff goodbye tonight. Jeff was busy helping with the cleanup and helping our hostess get her own kids upstairs to bed and so Max was rushed out of the house without his customary hug.
On an ordinary day, this might have been fine but Max is suffering from a cold that won’t go away. And he was up way past his bedtime. And he is feeling a little like the world is spinning out of control. Our dear Odette has been holed up in her room now for over a month, recovering from surgery and has been unable to play with him. There are rotting vegetables in the kitchen, and dirty dishes piled up very high in the sink. And all around him the adults are murmuring things about bailouts and stock accounts and layoffs and while he doesn’t know exactly what any of that is he is sensing that it is probably not good.
It is in moments like these that we most need to hold on to the ones who give us security, the ones who make us feel safe. We deeply long to be seen, to be hugged, to know that in the end, at least we have each other. Not in an intellectual way, but in a physical, real and tactile way.
I know what Max was feeling. These days, I am feeling a kind of new fragility that comes from being somewhat new. While it is generally good, there are moments when life, the sights and colors and bright lights and intense emotions can be a bit overwhelming. There are days when I am acutely aware of how little I understand, how little I can really grasp. And I am aware of how, like a newborn child, I have no words to explain it all to those around me. In these moments all I want to do is to crawl up into the lap of my loved ones. I want to be passed from one lovin’ set of arms to another. I don’t want to have to be big or grownup or understand about commitments. I want to be seen, and have that seeing acknowledged with real, tangible physical assurance. I need to know in a way that is neither intellectual or abstract that they are there. And when they can’t be, I can find myself in a metaphorical ball on the floor of the car.
It was for all these reasons that I was able to stifle my sighs and turn off the car and go inside to get Jeff. While it was true that Max would see Jeff tomorrow, and Wednesday and Friday too, the truth is sometimes, when it comes to love, all we have is now and promises of tomorrow aren’t enough. And while I hesitated a second, thinking that this was really just attention getting behavior it occurred to me that sometimes attention is really what is needed.
In the dark, Max crawled off the floor and into Jeff’s lap and lay a weary head on his shoulder. His little boy/big boy body relaxed out of the tight tight ball into a mushy kind of puddle. He was able to go, knowing that he was seen, that that seeing was real and that love finds a way, even out to the dark car.
And this not only comforted him but lifted him and made him laugh.
It made me laugh too as I turned to wrap my own arms around Jeff and just for a second lay my own head on his shoulder and breathed in the tangible, the solid, the real love that is my friend.