Mithridates, he died old

Mithridates, he died old

It’s an odd thought to entertain, not just dark, or even macabre, but downright sinister, “moping melancholy mad”. Why do I do it then, imagining the death of those nearest and dearest? Is is a sort of inoculation against the possibility of future pain, a la A. E. Houseman?

This afternoon while the girls were both napping, I got to thinking on Bella. And for some reason I thought about stories I’ve read of parents who’ve lost children as young as she is, or even younger. And how they sometimes say their child lived a whole life in that short span. How they seem to know their souls so well that adding more time would not have helped them probe deeper into that mystery. I guess I’ve read more than a few stories of parents who’ve lost children recently. And today I understand something I didn’t when I read those sorts of stories before I became a mother. I understand how motherhood rips you open, exposing your heart. They get inside of you and change you, these little people.

I see Bella now in my minds eye, I hear her cheery voice, her whiny voice, her “uv oo, mama” voice, and her “do it self” voice. And I think that if the worst were to happen, if she were to be taken from me, I wouldn’t be left with a feeling of not having known her or of a life tragically cut short. (Though oh I can’t imagine life without her. Not really. She is my life, my joy.) Because she has been, because she has lived, were she to go there would be a Bella-shaped emptiness in my life and for all her small stature that would be a gigantic gulf.

And yet I also know that she isn’t mine. She’s a gift, lent to me for a time, or rather entrusted to me to care for, a soul to tend and shepherd so that one day she may return again to the greater

So I sit in my bed, watching Sophie in her swing, and shed a few tears as I entertain the thought, which should be so unthinkable, of losing my sweet Isabella. I try to imagine what it would be like to have her gone and I count up all the treasure of the two years and nine months that she has been in my life, from that first magical moment when I started to imagine that I might indeed be pregnant. And as I tally the riches that she has brought to me, I thank God, the giver of life who entrusted me with this great treasure. I hope that if I were to lose her, I would not cease thanking him for that which I have had. For as I think these dark thoughts they bring me to this light place, this gratitude.

You never know as a parent how much time you will have. Every day might be the last. For you or for them. I only had my little Francis two short months. I never felt a kick. I never got to see or feel or hear that little life that I so briefly sheltered. And yet I know my tiny baby is an immortal soul, safe now in the hands of our heavenly Father. And one lesson I learned from that tiny sojourner, who was with me such a brief while, is this hoarding up of every day because I never know how long I will have to enjoy these two beautiful girls of mine.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure      
Luck�s a chance, but trouble�s sure,
I�d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
�Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:      
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head      
When your soul is in my soul�s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

Not that I agree with Houseman that the world has much more good than ill. But I also don’t shy away from acknowledging that there is bad in the world and we are all subject to the ills that come from living in a fallen world. And especially death, that comes for us all. And I think pondering the shadows can sometimes help me appreciate the light. And perhaps I do hope, a sort of foolish superstition, that by allowing myself to ponder the inevitability of death I might somehow prevent its sting from being quite so sharp when it does come. As if by grieving today I might cheat death of its full power to wound.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,      
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,      
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;      
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white�s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
�I tell the tale that I heard told.      
Mithridates, he died old.

My intimate knowledge of “Terence This Is Stupid Stuff” is courtesy of my best friend Stephanie who taught me to love Houseman in those golden years when we were young and quoted poetry to each other all the day long.

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