Upon passing a cemetery on the way to play group yesterday, Chloe was prompted to a line of questioning that led to the question of death: not only her death but also the death of me and Val. Val was alone in the car with the girls and did her best to avoid retelling those tempting stories we mortals tend to tell ourselves to assuage the ineluctable burden of our finitude.
Yet, what does one tell a three and a half year old asking about the limit of her own existence? Her humanity presses in upon her and she responds with a natural wonder that must be nourished, however much it challenges the securities we have won over the course of a lifetime of living in the shadow of the limit.
Whitman helps me here, although the help is hard to hear:
You are asking me questions and I hear you,
I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.
Sit a while dear [daughter],
Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you
with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.
Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every
moment of your life.
Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout,
and laughingly dash with your hair.
-From Leaves of Grass, 46 ("son" changed to "daughter" by cpl)
To invite and hear the questions, to admit the impossibility of answers, to nourish our children and to empower them to be bold swimmers are the true gifts we parents have to offer. In return, there is a nod, a shout, a laughing dash of hair: the dazzle of the light. Let us habit ourselves to every moment of our lives.