In September, my oldest son donned a pair of wrinkle resistant khaki shorts and a navy blue polo shirt, one of the uniform combinations accepted at his Kindergarten. He walked into the classroom and started exploring, found his name on his cubby, and placed his backpack on the shelf. I wanted to linger in the classroom but he let me know that I should go, give him space to explore.
I kept his blonde floppy hair in my sights and watched the classroom fill up with all the children of the world. He is in a magnet program at a public school that houses over 40 nationalities and 30 something language groups, where there are children in wheelchairs and in hand-me-downs and in top dollar clothing moving through the hallways. I visited the school last January, and I sensed that, by attending this school, tucked away in East Charlotte, my children would get an impression of the great world beyond our city, our state, our country. It felt like a small act of resistance appropriate for our family in a tense moment for the USA.
But on the first day of school for my oldest, all the social justice energy in my gut fluttered weakly, drowned by the pounding in my belly.
The pounding rhythm was “this boy is not just mine, or my husband’s and mine. He belongs in the wild world.”
The wild world, according to Rat in The Wind and The Willows, is “something that doesn’t matter” and a place he advises never going, “if you’ve got any sense at all.” I understood Rat’s sentiment as I let myself feel the urge to pull my son into my arms that first day of school. All the headlines in the U.S. and around the world since his birth have not mattered to him at all. We have not been in a war or in a flood or in a neighborhood where someone without a gun was shot by someone with a badge and a gun or in a crowd that was struck by a rain of bullets from above or car.
Back home after the drop off, I sat cross-legged on the floor. I delayed the start of my work day and practiced the welcoming prayer. The papers I got about it from my spiritual director say it is an ‘attitude adjustment.’ I closed my eyes, observed my speedy heartbeat, felt the pang in my stomach. After a while, I named the sensations and symptoms. Pain and fear. And then, after I breathed a bit, I was able to say, Welcome, pain and fear.
This welcoming of pain that I did, and that I keep practicing, feels on the surface like accepting fate. But I find strength in paying attention to these feelings. Through this practice, I acknowledge the pain and fear, presenting them to God. In prayer, I don’t try to rise above such feelings. I own them, like psalmists did.
That day I sat with pain and fear, and I breathed, until I remembered the other spaces in my body. My hamstrings, sore from a good workout in the morning. My wedding ring sliding around my left hand. There was so much in the moment—my fear and pain a part of it all, but in the rest of this space there is glory and love and beauty.
I moved into the final act of the welcoming prayer, a release to God:
I let go my desire for security and survival, for me, for my husband, for my children.
I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go my desire for power and control.
I let go my desire to change the situation.
There are deep hurts in this world. Blonde, blue-eyed boys like my son have a lot of privileges. And my son is only mine by the thinnest threads of DNA. He belongs in this great wild world with its pain and fears, but even in pains and fears there is more. In the wild world is the beautiful bounty of languages and colors of skin (even more than those in the halls of his school!), the height of mountains and depth of oceans, and the vast starry hosts that man has only just begun to explore. Only God could hold this altogether, this swirl of contrasts, with a dance at its center between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s got the whole wild world in those Hands.
Emily Chambers Sharpe is writing a love story with her husband, 3 sons, and dog in Charlotte, NC. By day, she is a Senior Health and Nutrition Advisor for Medair, a Swiss humanitarian NGO inspired by Christian faith to relieve human suffering through relief and recovery efforts in remote and devastated places. At one point, she was assistant coach to the two-time national high school basketball championship girls’ team from West Darfur, Sudan, and before that, she worked for Southern Living Weddings magazine. She puts off housework to spend time outdoors with her family, tries new recipes every week, and loves books and music.