Jena Strong: A mother looks for good in a sorrowful week
AMHERST — Snuggling my first-grader to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dad. The dad who trained for months and months, who in mile 12 or 15 or 21 or 24 didn’t know that when he neared the finish line, his son would be fatally wounded, his daughter maimed, his wife critically injured.
The dad who has requested privacy and respect for his family as they “simultaneously grieve and recover.” We say it’s unimaginable, and yet I find myself trying. Knowing once again we are all in this together, and don’t know what the finish line will bring, as I stroke my 7-year-old’s head and she drops off to sleep almost instantaneously in this bedtime magic trick she does that never ceases to amaze me.
Another day, another night, the promise of another morning.
Earlier, I got to read a little rhyming poem to my sister that I wrote for her birthday. We sat around a table and ate grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. I looked over at my girls, in what is really another home for them. Family on all sides, aunts and uncles, parents, cousins. We each shared high points and low points. The low point, Boston. The high points, birthdays and springtime, a trip to a museum with grandparents.
When I talked to my 10-year old about Monday, I told her how some runners kept going for two more miles after that famously grueling course in order to donate blood.
“That’s good,” she said.
There is more good than bad. There is good everywhere we look, in everyone we encounter. In every smile. In every opportunity to hold the door, sweep the floor, cuddle a child, celebrate a sister.
Sitting around after dinner this evening, I overheard my niece talking about the catty girls in middle school who judge other girls for this and that, anything. And my sister’s sister-in-law, who teaches at a women’s college, saying to her how she wonders not what those girls will be doing later in their lives but how will they feel. How mean people are usually hurting and could use a hug, if only they’d accept one.
Then the kids — five of them tonight between the ages of 7 and 14 — went off to chase each other with forkfuls of frosting, to catch frogs and run around barefoot in the backyard after spending the whole day together. Hugs goodnight all around, and later whispering to my sleeping child how lucky I am to be her mama. Every day. Today and forever, the low points and high points sometimes inseparable, identical. Life. Love. Loss.
“A pretty shameful day for Washington,” in the words of President Obama. “But this effort is not over.” He was referring to the Senate’s failure Wednesday to pass “common-sense gun reform,” even as families of children who died in Newtown, Conn., looked on.
I’m no pundit; I cannot tie it together neatly, nor skillfully pull the pieces apart. I’m not even trying to make a point. All I know is that bedtime with my daughter, middle-school bullies, family gatherings, lives lost or traumatized by violence — guns in classrooms, bombs in trash cans — these are all so woven together.
So we keep coming together. Because we have to. Because we can. Because that’s what we do well and it is why we are here.
It is why we are here.
Jena Strong is an Amherst native and current resident.