I feel exactly like I did when my mom used to say, "here it comes ... here it comes .... there it is!" while we were driving past something I wanted to see. But I didn't see it. I didn't see it then, and I didn't see it now. The car has passed the spot, and I can hear the sing-song chant. "Yoooou missed it. Yoooou missed it."
Go back! Go back! I want to see it!
The car never went back.
I missed it.
Sometime this summer, in the steady driving speed of cruise control, at 60 seconds per minute, sixty minutes per hour, twenty-four hours each day, the car drove by the signpost. I missed it. There was a halfway marker somewhere. There has been a before and this is an after. I am peering through the back window as I go around the corners, trying to figure out when it happened.
It did not happen in the hospital. That much I know. A surgeon did not put that marker by the side of the road. Surgeons do not have that power.
It did not happen on my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. That was a good viewpoint, for sure, but it was a very good and beautiful place in a whole series of them.
The place where Before disappeared over the horizon and After started flying past the windows did not happen while I was sitting in class this summer.
It did not happen when my daughter married, or my youngest son turned twenty, or the financial aid award letters finally came for the three of us who need them for this coming school year.
No, I think I might know when this happened. I think I know why I missed it.
I think it began to happen while I was on my knees in the Lady Chapel, with a chance at last to give myself entirely to the waves of emotion. I paced and prayed in the empty church that afternoon. I gave myself utterly into the hands of God. Out loud. On purpose. With the great cloud of witnesses gathered around my head, great gratitude for a very, very good life and all the things it has so far contained met and thundered together with the deepest sadness of grief, and the prayer-soaked bricks and rafters were more than strong enough for the tide.
I rarely sob. I do sometimes cry (generally in private), by I rarely sob. That afternoon, the dam collapsed and broke. I realized, then, that I did not feel scared to have surgery - or to move finally and irrevocably out of my years of fertility and mothering. It was not fear that broke over my head. It was grief. And then, in that moment on my knees, receiving the blessing of prayers and holy oil, in private and quiet and safety, I chose.
Perhaps it is the act of the will that makes a before and after possible in our road.
"Blessed art thou."
"How will this be?"
"The Holy Ghost will come upon thee."
"Be it unto me according to thy word."
"Let this cup pass."
"Nevertheless, not my will but thine."
"My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
"It is finished."
And then, the place in the road passed by, I think, while I slept. Mercifully, more kindly even than the surgeon who took ovaries and womb while I slept in a fog of drugs in the operating room, the good Lord who loves me gathered me up, clear and aware and ready at last, from the me I used to be. One night, while I slept, He made me new again.
This is After.