It was the last evening of a four-day Courage & Renewal retreat, and a broad-shouldered vocal coach had us singing with what she called “full voice.” We had already experimented with the concepts of consonance (singing with unified voices), dissonance (singing with diversified voices), and now we were starting a musical round (singing with one voice in three parts.) She went through each part quicker than lightening, and then gamely asked, “Got it?”
No. We absolutely did not “got it.” Looking around at the mostly wiser, grayer choir of participants beside me, I saw my fear face mirrored in theirs. She must be mistaken, we said with our eyebrows, or at the very least pressed for time.
But soon a Cheshire grin slinked across her face. “YOU may not have it yet. But, trust me, WE do.” She paused for only a blink to let the truth sink in. We promptly filled our lungs with breath to begin.
Last month, a member of my church took his last breath, accidentally and shockingly. He was thirty-seven with a good job, a good wife, and six young kids. I didn’t so much grieve for him—I hardly knew him—as I grieved for his wife, which is another way of saying I grieved for myself. I don’t have enough love to love our girls alone; I’m sure of it.
I admitted as much to a priest who was with me the day that I found out. “Will you be my priest for a minute or two?” I asked, as tears crept their way out of dry corners. I told her what had happened. I told her I was not capable of what this widow must now do. She told me I was right.
“You’re not capable,” she said to me, echoing the sentiment of that vocal coach some years ago. “But the church is. And God is.” My tears slowed, sure that she was right, unsure what it meant, exactly.
I don’t know what YOU feel incapable of right now. I don’t know if it’s leaving a partner who makes you feel small–or a church that does the same. Or if it’s finishing the book you know is in you but can’t get out. Maybe, like me, it has something to do with love, who you’re capable of loving and how much and for how long.
I do know, though, that taking on ONLY tasks you are capable of is cowardly. I do know that anything worth doing can’t be done alone, even if your collaborators are dead poets or a silent God. I do know that relationship grows your capacity to love.
The priest was on point. I am not capable of loving my girls like they deserve. But I am larger now than when I first started parenting some four years ago. Saturdays are no longer my least favorite day of the week. I do not mind being hugged before nine a.m.. When I use my daughter’s bath bomb without asking, I know to apologize, and am even proud of her for insisting. The recipe for loving them, by some strange magic, is actually baked into their bodies.
Still, I do not, by any measure, “got this.”
The metaphor of a musical round—where the failures of the one are easily covered by the voices of the many, where the strong note of another can carry your off-key cry, where you don’t have to know all the parts to play your part—is a reassuring one when your fear face takes over. When you’re having a vocational failure-to-launch problem. When you’re having a “I’m a terrible parent” problem. When you’re having a “There’s no way in hell I can bear this grief” problem.
But we can.
We can grow into our full voice together.
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