Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gifts

K, O, M tonight on the deck after dinner

Lately I've been thinking about gifts. All sorts of gifts. Big gifts, little gifts, simple gifts, complex gifts, 'good' gifts, and gifts of challenge. The boys' birthday is coming up (something that looms large around here; something that Kyle and Owen-- Kyle especially-- remind us of many times each day). They'll receive lots of gifts from lots of people. As is our tradition, Braydon and I will give them each one gift. They've asked for remote control airplanes. They have been ordered. They will wake up on their birthday to open that special gift. They will get what they've wanted.

For a long time now I have thought of Kyle and Owen as a gift. A gift to me in my life; a very special gift. Adopting them was the best thing I've ever done in my life. Adopting them is by far the best way I've ever used my life. They are such a gift in so many ways, ways that range from the most simple to the most complex. They've filled my life with such intense richness; they are everything --and more-- that I hoped for and longed for and wished for and asked for. But sometimes we receive gifts that we don't ask for. We didn't ask for Meera. And yet every single night, as I put her to bed, I rock her in the stillness of her bedroom and I think -- sometimes even whisper outloud -- "My God, what a gift this baby is." She is a pure joy; a sweet indulgence; an angel baby that makes me feel on top of the world. I wonder, 'how could I be so lucky? What a gift!' If I could have known to ask for her, I would have: she is the gift I never even knew I wanted.

And sometimes gifts are received that we'd never ask for. Gifts can be questions that push us in new directions, experiences that deepen our souls, challenges that we'd never ever seek or that we actively try to avoid. A few days ago I found out that one of my students from a few years back killed himself. He did it in a gruesome way that turns my stomach to think about. This was a kid that I was very close with; a student I worked hard with; someone I put a lot into. On Thursday I'll teach my last class of this semester. And like every semester, I'll end that class telling my students what I always do: "Once a student of mine, always a student of mine." It is sincere for me, I really mean it. I am not a stereotypical professor, and I get very close with my students. This particular student of mine graduated in 2005 but I'd been in touch with him off and on since then. He was a beautiful, brilliant, complicated young black man with rippling muscles and glaring eyes and a rough, rough history. He was tough. He challenged me. And he will now, forever, challenge me in some of the most profound ways imaginable. This is a gift. A gift I would never ask for. And yet a gift still the same.

I'm reeling from finding out that this student of mine took his life. And I still feel nauseous if I think about it too much (it does not help that this is now the second person in my life who, in the past six months, has committed suicide). But last night, sitting in the rocking chair with baby Meera, it suddenly was so clear to me: yes, what a gift she is. Right now, she's a simple, pure, joyful gift -- a gift of almost intoxicating sweetness. I am grateful for this gift that she is in my life. But I am grateful too, for the more challenging gifts that I have had the honor of receiving. The wild and crazy boys who we had to work so hard for to adopt, who push my buttons daily, and keep me on my toes and never let me rest and always make me question every single one of my parenting strategies. I would not want it any other way. The gift of Kyle and Owen is the truest miracle I've ever experienced. And as I near the end of the school year and begin to wrap up another year of being a Professor who actually cares... well... I am reminded that I wouldn't want every one of my students to be the stellar-make-the-Professor-proud-shiny-happy-straight-A-go-on-to-graduate-school-always-striving-to-please ones. Those ones are gifts, for sure (I've had the pleasure and privilege of calling many students like that my own). But there are other gits too. The students who push me and compel me to question everything I'm doing... those students are gifts. It is not a compare and contrast. It just is what it is. And Howard Ward, as hard as it is to see, is a gift to me.

He is no longer on this earth but I can remember him well. I remember hugging his rigid body and working hard to look him right straight in his glaring eyes. I bought a painting of his-- the first piece of artwork he ever sold-- and it has had a home in our house ever since, and always will. I watched him on the football field many times as he aggressively slammed his hard body into the players of the other team. And more than once I watched him cry sitting on the couch in my office. I remember when he came to me to tell me that his girlfriend was pregnant and keeping the baby. And I remember when he emailed me to tell me that his first "real" art gallery show had been a huge success. I remember when he stood up and did a 'rap' once during a class discussion (and every other word was the 'f' word). What a gift all of those things have been. He never was one of the 'easy' ones; he always had a way of making me feel a bit uneasy, a bit unsure. But I am sure that is a good thing for me. To me, he was a student who pushed me to question and challenged me to rise to the occasion. He was tough. And still is. And what a gift.

Gifts given, gifts received.

So as the gift of spring is blooming all around me right now -- making me feel as if I'm living in some sort of fantasy land with blooming trees and birds of bright colors flying all around us (literally! it is that beautiful here!)... and as the school year is winding down again-- making me feel as if I'm being pushed to the max for this final crunch, yet again... and as we prepare to celebrate two boys turning five and one girl turning one and as I remember being pregnant a year ago and getting our adoption referral five years ago and as I watch my students get ready to graduate and remember the ones that have graduated in years past... and as I think about gifts given and gifts received... as I reel and spin in the vastness of it all... I am grounded by the gifts. And I take solace in the three in the photo above.

9 comments:

MorMor said...

What a gift you have to express what you are thinking in words. It is a special gift. I am so sorry about the sudden death of your student. He probably, like your cousin Eric, never knew what a gift he was to others.

adina said...

This is so very moving, Heather. Hauntingly beautiful, in fact.

Thank you so much for sharing a bit of yourself, your experience, and perspective with the blogosphere. That too, is a gift.

Juli said...

That was so beautifully written!

Beth said...

Thank you so much for your beautifully written post. I have tears in my eyes, but also joy in my heart. It is a wonderful reminder to appreciate all the wonder around us and be thankful for the challenges as well as the gifts. My partner, Lisa, and I are expecting our first baby and I can't get over all I/we have been blessed with. We look forward to reading your blog everyday. You touch so many people you aren't even aware of. Thank you.

ShannonC said...

So sorry. And So thankful all at the same time.

Thank you for voicing such complicated emotions so clearly and publically for all of us to learn from. Another gift...

Safiya said...

...I share your sadness about Howard, Prof. J. It haunts me that no one will ever know why: why he thought that his only option, why he chose the method he did, but now, as I'm a mother, it haunts me more why his son wasn't enough. But, you're right: to know such a talented, complicated person, and to know that he is gone, are both gifts because we can go forward appreciating our lives - the highs, the lows and everything in between - even more deeply. Sending you an e-hug...

Elyssium Earth said...

Oh, Heather, Thankyou. I sit here in the wee hours of the morning with the news of the suicide of my friend, Tim. A gift, right, every moment a gift, Right. Now apply,

SE'LAH... said...

Exhaling. Sigh. Beautiful tribute and heartfelt emotions with this post.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for this post, Heather. I will be re-thinking many of my 'gifts' today. One of our daughters continues to struggle with social and relational issues. While these types of situations seem a 'no-brainer' to us they are huge issues for her. Yet I need to remember she is a gift. One of our adopted children is struggling with behavioral issues which are very hard to understand and get under control. Yet this child is very much a gift to me. I need to remember this and re-dedicate myself to finding out and doing what is best for these gifts of mine.