Happy Birthday, Sweet Meredith!
I often call you my Sunshiny Princess, and that little name has been coming to mind often when I think of you lately. Daddy & I miss you so very much. No doubt about it: You are sunshine to us. You make everything bright and happy. We miss you for a hundred reasons. We talk about you every day, about how it will feel to hold you again and about how it will feel to see you and recognize in an instant how much we’ve missed in three weeks. We get to see your pixelated face on Skype on most days while we are here in Europe and you’re with Gramma & Grampa and we can tell even then how much you’re growing and changing. When you talk it makes us giggle to each other at how much your language is growing. I can’t wait to hold you. My arms ache to squeeze you and feel you squeezing me. It’s less than a week now before we are together again and when I imagine it I grin.
As we’ve wandered through London this week I am drawn like a magnet toward little children wherever I see them. I imagine their parents, when they catch me sneaking a smile at their babies, suppose I am a young married thing daydreaming about having my own someday. Really, I’m just seeing them and picturing you and Jacob.
The adventure Daddy & I have been on for the past two weeks has been almost perfect. We have basked in the big things (like a balcony at the foot of the Eiffel Tower) and the little things (like riding public transit without strollers to push or tiny hands to grab). We have missed you dreadfully but we have treasured these moments without you, moments to spend loving each other and remembering how that felt at a simpler time.
I have felt at rest with my arms empty of you and Jacob. It has been rejuvenating. I love having time each morning to take a leisurely shower. To debate over what necklace to wear. It’s been refreshing and peaceful to take care of just myself, to have room in my brain to listen to my own body’s cues instead of fitting myself into the cracks of our family’s existence. I needed this oasis and I will be thankful for it for a long time to come. I’ve learned things about myself in these calm, quiet days and I hope I will be a better mother for it.
But as much as I’ve loved all this luxury, I’ve been recognizing this urge to mother the people around me. It found its best expression this week in the arrival of our colleague three days late due to passport trouble: It was all I could think of – making sure he was fed and settled and not lacking for anything as we scrambled through our day of choral work, finished Evensong, and dashed across the city to give an organ recital together. I worried later that perhaps he’d felt fussed over, and I laughed at how much more I missed you and Jacob than I realized.
Usually I am so bent on mothering you and Jacob that I often see every other person in the world as irrelevant by comparison, but with my arms empty I’m remembering ways of relating to people, remembering something that should be so obvious to me, but that when you’re in the middle of it every day you can’t see the forest for the trees: I love people and I love to make sure they’re happy. I thrive on this, and I expect you will someday, too. No, I’m not happy with that sentence: You already are, and this has always been obvious to us. You love people and you love to make them happy, and thus your name: Sunshiny Princess.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is good. Cultivate this, my girl. Real happiness is not found in serving yourself. I hope you will find moments of rest along your way, as these days have been for me: moments to enjoy the simplicity of taking care of yourself. And I hope when you do, and as your tank begins to refill just a little, you will realize that you have the capacity to bring joy to others.
I learned this first in choir seven years ago, so I can’t help noticing the irony of coming to see it again this week as part of another choir. Seven years ago I began to emerge from a battle with dark depression and the first chink of light came as I pondered my place in the scheme of St. Olaf College’s choral ensembles. As a freshman I’d had high ambitions to take the world by storm, to be an exceptional composition student, to sing in the St. Olaf Choir. A combination of depression and physical illness made it clear by the end of that stormy, scary year that I would never achieve these things: I dropped the composition major and auditioned only for the Cantorei, a choir with less than half the time commitment I would’ve been making otherwise. I had learned my limitations and adjusted my expectations. But my heart wasn’t in it, and my depression grew worse. I would weep almost every night for nothing but fear that I would never be able to express myself. Artists, my girl, they are angsty.
That fall I joined the Cantorei not just as a singer but as an officer and set to the endless work of ensuring that everyone felt welcome in the new year and that everyone had all the right music to sing. One day in that first week of my sophomore year I realized I was happy. I had stopped looking in on myself and started looking out at the rest of the world and found that my fear of never being able to express myself was gone. That was the year I fell in love with the concept of choral singing. As my teacher and mentor would so often point out, the sum of all of us could produce something so far beyond the capacity of any one of us. Together with a hundred other college kids I realized I had found that mode of self-expression I’d been searching for, not just in song but in community and in the work of loving people. For months an essay bounced around in my head – one I never found the right words to write – about teamwork, and about service as the best form of self-expression.
Seven years later I’m still thinking about those ideas, still wishing I could find words for that essay, and still finding it all true. Singing here in London, serving not only the fifty others I’ve travelled with but standing by night in the house of the Lord, as the Psalmist said, doing the daily work of that’s been a part of the worshiping church for centuries. I am happy, and I don’t tend to worry about myself anymore.
I love you baby girl, and I’m sorry I’ve missed your special day. I’m glad you’ve had Aunties and Grandparents to spoil you rotten. I can’t wait to see you again and feel you in my arms and hear everything you’ve learned to say. Until then Daddy & I will keep sneaking looks at that picture of you in the floppy orange hat and the polka dot dress. It’s the background on my phone so we can see it at the push of a button, and we indulge ourselves quite regularly.
I love you.