I am obsessed with moments of arrival. Perhaps it’s to do with being a rabid (and failed) perfectionist, but I want to crawl inside such moments, pull them over my eyes, inhabit them. I want to be ‘done’, to be ‘there’.
Such moments are illusory. They dissolve at our touch, only to cite the next sequence of longing. Yet, they’re everywhere, emblazoned on our minds, sewn into social media like a painful pattern. We receive details of others’ lives which we wouldn’t ordinarily know, or bother to find out. Sometimes this is beneficial, but critically, it means our minds are soaked with a constant stream of what others are doing. It’s easy to take from a supply of careers, relationships, and children, and weave a web with which to trap ourselves. I mean: I could spin a yarn from someone’s spaghetti dinner. That’s so cosy. They’re so happy. It’s not even about envy. It’s an exercise in hallucination, in projecting people’s lives onto our fear.
At twenty, I became a mother. And I was lost.
I couldn’t admit it. Young mothers tend to miss out on the luxury of looking unsure. Society is so eager to presume, to ask pointedly what your plans are and deprive you of the legitimacy of having none, that, early on, you begin to overcompensate. You hoard achievements, hold your studies against you like a sword. My tutor is being very supportive, I plan to continue my degree, I plan … as though to skip the waiting time and materialise an ‘acceptable’ situation.
I sought arrival in my baby’s birth. Finally, I’d forgo my ambiguous belly and become Mother. Yet, when the contractions gripped me, I was thrown into disorganized terror. The pains came quick and deep, I was not Mother but a wild thing, unbound. And after, when I lay, delighted and afraid: of the constancy with which she fed, of her need, I did not feel Mother, only me.
And, far from arriving, I was leaving, with a child who needed ‘home’ more than me. I’ve never been practical or had the instinct to take one day at a time. Every moment comes as an interpretation. I’d buy nappies, then remember I couldn’t buy a bean without student finance. My life felt fake, like I’d loaned it, like I’d racked up debts in not being a mother ‘made’. Students are expected to have debt. Debt is a prerogative of our situation, something we protest with righteousness. But, a parent? They say parents are supposed to be settled. Quick! Gain house, car and career before they see you aren’t what you appear. How strange it is, to live such incompatibility, to make such excuses for a motherhood that’s mine. I wanted to stand up, declare, All is well, all is legitimate. Look at my daughter, how she laughs and grows. Don’t make me do the impossible: tear a future out of time – don’t you know? You can’t make things from lack, only the hardscrabble fact that my life is my life and the ‘is’ is the part which is precious.
I fed on those half-paths a long time, my hatred of them. I grew angry at busts, at stone-faced philosophers whose wives would never stud the walls past which I walked. Schola, Academice, Philosophaie, did that mean me? A woman, small, wearing last year’s nursing bra? Or perhaps only parts of me, bits that were none of the above. I might slice them and offer them, as though I were not whole.
And then I met the One. He spoke to me, in the wilderness I’d internalized. He offered me a wholeness so complete that I could lose every worldly thing and still have all. Such love, not by anything I had done, good or bad, not by who I was, but by the nature of the One who loved me. It no longer mattered who I was or where I was, because I’d been given this glorious identity – a love extraneous of time and place, and powerful over death. It wasn’t that I’d lost my earthly self, as much as I’d gained a self which defined me so perfectly and lovingly that I needed nothing more. I was full. I’d come to live with God.