It seems to have been a brutal couple of years for my friends.  In the wide circle of my acquaintance and the tighter one of my close friends I have seen two women die of breast cancer, a third be diagnosed with metastatic cancer (two of these before age forty), several miscarriages, some hideous broken relationships, death of a few parents, tragic car accidents, a few failed IVFs and other ravages of infertility, and now this: my friend J., after years of infertility, gave birth to a little girl who seemed healthy but has now been diagnosed with a severe heart defect that has threatened her life.   In this company we are all affected by the hospital-visiting, funeral-attending, meal-making and other practicalities.  We’re more seriously affected by the fear, the draining effects of shared grief, and the spiritual rigors that all this puts us through.  Say it again, God is good all the time.  How, exactly, does that work in the midst of … this?

I don’t know.  But the vulnerability of these women, myself included, is starting to make sense.  As I approach our IVF and the real likelihood of a pregnancy, I notice that my exposure to heartbreak and loss increases exponentially.  I first experienced this when deciding to get married.  I had to become willing to lose my husband before I could be willing to join my life with his.  It’s not just picking out wedding rings, in the long, long view, it’s also knowing what his funeral arrangements will be, and letting him know mine.  Grim?  You bet.  But I had a deep unease in my heart until I understood that marriage here on earth doesn’t have a good ending.  I’d rather be parted from him by death than by divorce, but those are my two options.  It’s easy to think we’re scared of the commitment, and run from it – but it’s actually the end of the commitment that scares me.  We can count on it ending, so maybe can we beat that loss by never beginning?  Except I’ve tried that and it sucks.

So here we are, as the Indigo Girls put it "My friends and I have had a tough time," and it’s starting to make a little bit of sense.  As women, we tend to value our human connections very highly, and the older we get, the more we’re able to accumulate.  It’s our wealth.  My husband is "typically" male in many ways and if you ask him where his profit centers are, and how his wealth is being generated, he’ll tell you about the value of our house, his retirement plan, and our other assets.  But I’m starting to realize my wealth is in my friendships, my family of origin, and my future children.  It’s relationships that generate wealth for me, and many women I know: love, community, having a place in that sticky web of being known and knowing.  As we have moved through our thirties our opportunities to amass wealth have grown with the additions of husbands and children; each addition is a profit center of its own, bringing more relationships and increasing our connections, sometimes with exponential growth.  And each relationship exposes us to more loss. 

So, yes, my friends and I have had a tough time, but I have had this nagging feeling that this is all real life.  Real life is scary, and contains monstrosities like 38-year-olds being diagnosed with stage IV cancer and longed-for babies with profound health problems.  But it’s like this everywhere (except in less wealthy countries, where it is far, far more hideous).  Our rate of friends-with-cancer, miscarriage, parental death, and the other grab bag of miseries is painful, awful, untenable – and about normal.  And when it’s not, when the cancer report is benign or the difficult person suddenly apologizes, I start worrying anyway; if I get this break, another shoe will fall.  Only a question of time.  We’re just vulnerable, because we have all this relational wealth and no promise whatsoever that it will be safe. 

The Bible is pretty hard on wealth, in fact, telling us all over the place that our treasures can be stolen or destroyed, or that the rich person is to be pitied and has a tougher job getting to God.  Should I shun earthly riches and shut myself in the house and take all that Scripture literally?  Except, uh, I tried that and it didn’t work either.

I don’t know.  The only way to enjoy the wealth is now.  I have a big glorious necklace made out of big red glass hearts and bauble-icious red & gold beads that I made more than 10 years ago and have never worn because it’s just too fabulous, and because of Joe Fuqua.  Joe was an early maven of taste from my college days and he told me that his grandmother told him to "put on all your jewelry and then take off one piece."  What’s better than advice from a gay guy?  Advice from a gay guy’s grandma.  We were going to a nice place for Valentine’s Day but it wasn’t Buckingham Palace, and usually I would have pulled that necklace out and wistfully put it back again. But then I thought about the little baby who might not need a college fund or a cheerleading uniform, the forty-year old killed by a car on a sunny afternoon, the women on the other end of some of the other phone calls my radiologist had to make two Mondays ago, and I put that necklace on and it looked just great.   

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