I didn’t used to be an emotional person. I’d notice people–sometimes my friends–crying at movies or during a sad song, and I’d wonder why. Of course, when I was a kid I had trouble keeping the tears back, and so I trained myself well to keep that from happening: think of something funny. Think of a math formula. Think of a chord progression.
I got good at cutting off my body from the neck down. If I could work through problems in my head, I could usually come up with a calm, rational way of dealing with them. This was helpful in lots of areas of my life, specifically relationships. If my partner was behaving badly, or treating me “unfairly” (extremely easy to do, since my tolerance for being treated any way other than like a member of the royal family is low), I could go up in my little attic of a head and give myself a pep talk. “He was abused as a child,” I’d counsel my hurt self. “Don’t take it personally.” Or, “She’s envious. She doesn’t have your advantages.” Later, as I became slightly less insecure and slightly more evolved, the pep talk would be more along the lines of, “Maybe you didn’t treat him enough like a member of the royal family. Maybe you’re actually envious of her. Can you look for the gratitude and the acceptance?”
I could and did. Gratitude and acceptance became my watch words. Cultivating gratitude—working actively to appreciate the life I do have, the gifts I have been given, rather than focusing on what I think I lack––has turned my inner world into a much more pleasant place to live. And seeing acceptance as my path to God—taking what comes, letting things be, going with the flow, seeing reality as my true source––works a lot better than fruitless prayer that things be changed, improved, altered, avoided, granted.
But lately, I’ve been pregnant. Lately, I’ve been invaded not just by this new person (whom I did pray for, did invite), and not just by frustrating back troubles which have kept me on the couch during the most glorious season of the year, but worse, by all sorts of hormones raging, turning me into someone especially touchy and twitchy and prone to—yes—cry at the drop of a hat.
Exhibit A. Saturday morning I woke up for the first time in about five months with absolutely nothing to do. Nothing I had to do, I should say. There was plenty I could do, like fold diapers, organize my daughter’s books, write her yearly birthday letter, call my parents, help Tom make bread, do something crafty, etc. But the only thing I wanted to do was to break my eight-week media fast and find out what the polls were saying about Barack Obama. So I put on my comfort disks (Beatles and Bob Dylan, plus Dan Zanes, ostensibly for Lila but really for me) and went online, only to make myself sick the way I used to make myself sick by reading women’s magazines. I started to read a New York Times article online about McCain and Obama clashing about Iran, when suddenly emanating from my ancient stereo, I heard the first chords of “Let It Be.”
I’ve always liked the song, (who doesn’t?) but it’s not like it’s one of my favorites. After the age of 13, I eschewed the more sentimental Paul McCartney songs for the grittier, angrier “more real, man” John Lennon ones. Give me “Come Together.” Give me “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” Give me “Julia,” Lennon’s tribute to his dead mother who was hit by an off duty cop when Lennon was just 16 years old.
But on Saturday, something wordless came over me, and I started to sob. Taking the advice of an old friend (which I dutifully passed along in How to Be an Adult), I lay on the carpet with my feelings, which were huge and wet. As I lay there hoping Tom and Lila would stay in the kitchen and continue to make bread, I wept on the floor, listening to the familiar chord progression, the background vocals of George and John singing their “ahhs”, the overdubbed guitar solo, the raw sentiment of the tune, what it meant to the fans in 1970 to hear this song, knowing their favorite band had broken up, thinking about Paul’s own “Mother Mary” who had also died (of breast cancer) when he was 16—but Paul, unlike John, had been mostly reticent on the subject. The song bore into me, and I felt like a channel of all the world’s pain, and so I just cried along. I suspect this is a pretty typical pregnant woman response—when we are suddenly conduits of new life, our bodies really do become channels for the Other, whether that’s God (in the case of another Mother Mary) or just the pain of the world. I certainly can no longer witness children in any kind of pain any more, nor can I hear about families losing their children, such as the many stories coming in from China over the weekend.
So I cried and cried and after listening to the song twice through, I picked up my guitar and tuned it and played along to the next song, “The Long and Winding Road.” Lila came in and sat next to me, excited to see the guitar out. “You cwying?” she said pointing to my face.
“Yeah. But it’s okay. Mommy cries sometimes when she ‘s sad. And then she feels better. Just like you.”
Lila crawled into the space between my rapidly diminishing lap and the guitar and sat quietly while I strummed along. I thought about 1970, the year Let it Be came out: my own mother struggling with the many burdens of young motherhood (like I will soon be, she was the mother of two kids in diapers) and the burgeoning feminist movement, tired of government corruption, a cynical Republican president fighting an unpopular and unwinnable, costly war, rising costs of fuel. And little two and a half year old me, too young to have heard “Let It Be,” unless it had been piped it into the supermarket where we shopped (doubtful—I think 1970 was strictly Muzakland in places like supermarkets). Then I thought about letting it be; how that’s after all become something of a mantra to me. I thought about music, and how it saves me every time, and how grateful I am to be a conduit for music; as grateful as I am to be a conduit of this baby boy in my belly; this two-year-old on my lap.