Wonderful things and terrible things happen in the middle of the night. Every mother knows this. Oh, the thoughts that run through your head at that time of the night- namely 3am- when your 19 year old son is not home yet: you think of the worst, pray for the best, and get ready to give that kid of yours a real talking to when he finally does drive in at 4am.
Only as soon as I heard his car pull in, I turned over in bed, heaved a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks, and decided to give him the talking-to at lunch time. Or whenever he was going to wake up and tell me all about the concert he went to and how great it was and didn't-I-like-his-t shirt and all that. He'll smile at me and kid me about my overwhelming concern for him, and I'll sigh and roll my eyes at him and care only that he is alive and well and testing the boundaries of freedom, safety, and life. That kid of mine keeps me hurdling through life, yelping out prayers, looking upward with frantic eyes at times, and stumbling...forward...hopefully.
Now my soon-to-be-15 year old daughter does just the opposite. She organizes me. Prods my memory. Reminds me to take the bread out of the oven before I burn it. Cleans her room routinely and smiles while she does it. Tells me not to forget the doctor appointment. And all that. Her way of grabbing life by the throat and engaging it is not quite the way my son does it. Hallelujah for the small reprieves God throws our way.
But I do learn from both my kids. My son teaches me to take the foot off the brake and press on the gas. My daughter reminds me of the safety of stop signs. It's like I have two voices reminding me to "Get going!" and "Go safely" all at the same time- and I'm not sure you can always do both.
You can't always navigate safely and avoid all danger. Sometimes you can avoid a good amount of trouble- but you shouldn't think you'll never have a sleepless night or a frantic day of waiting for good news. But nor should you think that careful planning and good thinking can't help you sail on a little more safely and surely- even as you sing "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life".
Good mental health is the awareness that life is a bit dangerous- and that you don't develop a sick love for danger, but maybe a bit of respect for the way that danger makes your heart beat faster to the point that you remember how very alive you are. Too much safety and sameness can make you as powerful as a clogged drain and as dull as an overstuffed cat.
Speaking of cats, my gardener brother is thinking of getting one (or a dog) so that his garden won't be overun with voles. But after yesterday, I think I wouldn't mind having a couple of those cute mice-like creatures in my backyard (especially since I have nothing growing there but weeds).
I saved the life of a vole yesterday. As soon as I spotted it in my brother's garden, I regretted exclaiming what I saw because my brother protected his green organic paradise with a vengeance. I pleaded for its life.
"We'll have to move it far away from the garden, then- if you don't want me to kill it" he said.
I grabbed an empty pail and he prodded it and plopped it in the pail. It was still.
"You gave it a concussion!" I wailed.
"Nah, he's just staying quiet cause he's afraid".
Fear not, I thought compassionately- trying to convey to this creature that it would not end badly. But how do you let a little vole know that though he feels in great danger, that the hand holding the bucket is a gentle one- not a striking one.
We drove down the street, pulled into a little parking lot next to some woods, opened the car door, and turned over the bucket. The vole sat there. Stunned. Dazed. Afraid. Delirious with joy, perhaps. He was alive. The moment of danger had passed. He would go on another day.
And that's what I'm doing today.