A moment ago, I was making some rags from an old, stained t-shirt, feeling slightly bittersweet. Twelve months ago, that t-shirt was bright white with a yellow smiling start and the words “Kindergarten Star” emblazoned in blue, to be worn proudly by my soon-to-be kindergartener. Now, it is stain-riddled, well-worn and well-loved, but no longer evoking that sense of pride and joy it did last spring.
As I traveled backward’s along the t-shirt’s history, I was struck by the thought, “But what about before that?” In seconds (and with help from the t-shirt’s tag), I could see its past: Before that, it was pieces of fabric in a factory in Honduras, before that, a humble bolt of white jersey in the USA. Before that, cotton thread…before that, cotton balls plucked in the sun…before that, a plant…and before that, a seed.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
So wrote one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke. And as it is with this cotton, from seed to plant to ball to thread to fabric to t-shirt to rag (and whatever comes next), so it is with my emotions, including the ones I feel about my child’s special needs. Confusion gives way to denial, which is replaced by fear, which transforms into sadness, which mixes with beauty and love to reveal acceptance and always, always joy. Sometimes that joy morphs back into terror, and the cycle of emotions begins again.
“This too shall pass.” “Hang in there.” Such advice is given usually at the moment we least want to hear it–when we’d rather just punch the messenger right in the nose, as Pema Chodron, one of my favorite thinkers, would probably put it. But the message is wise and true. Just keep going. No feeling is final. With each breath and with each step, it turns into something else.