My best friend, Molly, now lives about a mile from my parents. When we were visiting in October, she insisted that Findley and I go out for a nice dinner with her, her husband, and another friend from college who was in town. Molly also wanted to invite another couple, one that I don't know as well.
"Have you already asked them?" I questioned over the phone.
"No. Why?" she responded.
"Because I am too tired to make small talk and get to know new people. I can hardly get up the energy to eat dinner with y'all. Please don't make me socialize with virtual strangers."
"Aren't they sort of your cousins?" Molly quipped.
"Sort of," I said. "But that's beside the point."
"No problem," Molly replied, "It'll just be us." But I could tell she was holding back a chuckle.
"Are you laughing at me? I know. I'm pathetic. I just can't expend any extra energy," I justified.
"I know, I know," she laughed. "I was just thinking about how much what you have been through has changed you. You used to be the party planner, the event organizer. And now I can hardly get you to go out to dinner. But I understand, Ab. I really do."
And Molly does understand because she has spent a lot of time with Virginia. She used to drive to Montgomery on her day off just so I wouldn't be alone listening to the crying. But her comment caused me to think about how these last seven years have changed me. Not just in the big ways, which I write about all the time, but in the little, less noticeable ways.
Part of the differences are practical. I still love being with people just as much as I ever did, but I don't have the time to pursue relationships outside of these four walls right now. (And I know lots of parents with small kids would say the exact same thing.) The same goes for hobbies. Philosophically, Findley still likes to spend time at the farm and hunt, but he hasn't done it in seven years because taking care of Virginia comes first.
I used to give a lot of parties. There were always people around our home and I loved it. But for me to entertain now means that Virginia gets ignored. It's one thing to stick a grilled cheese in front of Eliza and get on with my chocolate volcano cakes, but if I don't take forty minutes to sit down and feed Virginia, she doesn't eat.
Not to beat a dead horse, but we also don't sleep on a regular basis. Imagine having a newborn for seven years. I tried to get Findley to go to Arizona for the big Auburn game, but he reminded me that our physical reserves are very low. He didn't think he could afford to waste his energy on something non-essential and I think he was probably right.
But when I am honest, I will admit that most of the differences in me are due to real change in the way I see the world. My spirit is not as light-hearted as it used to be, and I am beginning to see that as a gift. A strange gift, one I have to be careful to keep in check, but a gift nonetheless.
Once you are aware of true suffering, your load becomes heavier. It is harder for me to be in a big group of people and just relax. It feels wrong to have a celebratory spirit when Virginia is home, unable to sleep. Or when I know that first thing in the morning, I will wake up to the same hardships I faced the day before.
Those are the times I have to let my mind win the battle over my newly-burdened heart. I know that we are called to celebrate life. To rejoice with those who are rejoicing. So even though it is impossible to 'check my suffering at the door,' there are many times when that is exactly what I need to do.
But having an acute awareness of the pain in the world gives me much greater empathy for those around me. Hopefully it causes me to look outwardly, not inwardly, and try to be there for those in my life who are suffering. And I have found in my old age that that includes everyone. I am certainly not the only one at the party whose mind struggles to engage in frivolities.
Yes, I do feel that in most ways Findley and I have emerged safely on the other side of this storm, but we are very different people than we were before. If an old college friend saw us out at dinner, we probably wouldn't seem any different than we did hanging out in the Branscomb Munchy Mart thirteen years ago. (Except for a few extra pounds on me and a little less hair on Findley!) You couldn't see the scars of what we have been through these last seven years or the sorrows we will always carry with us. But they are there.
Hopefully as time moves on, those scars and burdens will become more and more integrated into our lives and we will be better able to function in a world that continues to move around us. But I pray that we never lose our hard earned empathy or newly discovered perspective on the world.