Tuesday, February 1, 2011
When Jack was in third grade and we were in the middle of dealing with non-stop leukemia crap and I was just beginning to see the sunlight and slightly opening up the porthole of perhaps I might live through this and it wasn't the worst thing on the planet to have to deal with, I heard the story of a classmate of Jack's. In first grade, at the ripe old age of six, his mom died. He arrived at Jack's school in second grade and for all the outside world, looked like a typical kid. His dad had remarried and his dad was at all of the school events, front and center. In third grade, his dad got cancer and the battle was on.
Only this was news that no one in the class knew. All we could see was a little redheaded boy in rumpled clothes, with extra long fingernails, his father mysteriously busy. I had heard this this little guy's dad was a prominent attorney so the busy-ness made sense. Caught up in my own drama, I didn't notice the tragedy unfolding. After two full years of blinding selfishness, I shook that man's hand in a glad-to-see-you-and-begin-the-school-year kind of way. This dad was so ravaged and frail that it was painful to shake his hand. I could feel the fight still left in that great, great spirit but I was heartbroken to see for the first time how dangerously ill he really was. Finally, I could make sense of those fingernails. A momma was missing. A daddy was derailed. Nobody noticed.
It turns out that witchy stepmothers aren't only in fairy tales. In fact, some live right in my hometown. Unfortunately, in a Harry Potter kind of way, this little boy got the short end of the stick. He was not going to be nurtured by anybody any time soon. His fingernails were the least of his worries. In sixth grade, shortly after his dad's death, he left our school.
But, that little imp has never left my heart. Every three to four weeks as I lay claim to some extra long fingernails, I surround that now 18 year old with love and prayers. I wish I could have known him better; wish even more strongly that I wouldn't have been so caught up in my life to not notice a little boy who was in need of some tenderness. I pray for the mother who never got to clip those nails on that little hand as it grew and grew, marveling at how strong and beautiful those hands were getting. I pray for the father who fought so hard and had his time stolen by the thief we know as cancer. And when I'm really going for my Mother Teresa impression, I pray for that stepmom who just couldn't offer a grieving heart to share.
Mostly, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for the chance to once again clip some fingernails -- happy for the opportunity to have had the gift of clipping not one pair of hands but four! Today, two big kids never let me near their strong, capable hands. However, every few weeks, I steal a moment, force a younger kid to sit close by and begin that momma ritual. Call it mothering, hovering or extreme care-giving, I wouldn't miss it for the world.