What I Am Missing…


What I am missing is someone to read to.

My two most willing subjects in the past have outgrown my voice—having cultivated their own quiet articulation, their own tastes for story. How we would read long into the sleeping, the soft toes of footie pajamas twined in mine and the scent of Johnson’s baby shampoo our atmosphere. I wonder if—in their dreams—they still hear their mother’s voice narrating them through seasons, in turns choked with emotion or muted with absorption. When I read to them, we forgot that we are separate. Words would crochet invisible threads in the air…weaving together our minds, our hearts, our bodies. They would lie against me, play with my hair, melt heavy into me as if they remembered when their hearts once beat beneath my skin.

What I am missing is someone to read to.

I did this to Nancy—my poor, unsuspecting roommate at Jubilee—bent her ear with words. I think it might have been my favorite moment from the weekend: these two pajama-clad women—she in her red, me in my blue—nearing middle-age, sipping white wine from plastic hotel cups and letting Frederick Buechner’s words draw an invisible, sinuous thread between us—one, I think, that still connects us over the miles.

Beneath the face I am a family plot. All the people I have ever been are buried there—the bouncing boy, his mother’s pride; the pimply boy and secret sensualist, the reluctant infantryman; the beholder at dawn through hospital plate-glass of his first-born child. All these selves I was I am no longer, not even the bodies they wore are my body any longer, and although when I try, I can remember scraps and pieces about them, I can no longer remember what it felt like to live inside their skin. Yet they live inside my skin to this day, they are buried in me somewhere, ghosts that certain songs, tastes, smells, sights, tricks of weather can raise, and although I am not the same as they, I am not different either because their having been then is responsible for my being now. I am like a candle lit from a candle lit from a candle, as Gautama said, the traveling flame never the same and never different either… (Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace)

When I paused she nodded and sipped her cup and I—in thrall—hugged the book to my chest.

Who even thinks of that? She asked. Calling yourself a family plot?

As I read that passage again tonight, I am tugging on the thread. Do you feel it, Nancy? How the words tie us together…

I am missing someone to read to.

Lucy Mae is generally held rapt by little other than her doggie treats but she will acquiesce to tilt her head if I add a sing-songy lilt to the end of a line. Sometimes, after a particularly stirring oration, I believe I see a twinkle of understanding in her soft brown eyes. Still, there is something missing in the give and take. But she is my captive audience these days.

Some mornings, when I drive by the elementary school my boys used to attend, I imagine swerving my minivan into that old furrowed lot that has long forgotten me. I imagine walking those gleaming halls down to the library where I used to volunteer. I would pull a book from the shelf at random and there would be an entire class of wide-eyed littles leaning into this circle of bodies…waiting. Waiting for words to break the silence that stretches out between us.

Waiting for words to weave us together.

Or silence—silence between people, strangers sitting beside each other on a train or at night or taking shelter under the same awning in a rainstorm. Two lives hidden behind faces, divided by fathoms of empty space, wrapped round in silence which one of them breaks then with maybe some word that in one way or another means Know me, Know me…and something that never was before comes into being as the other replies and something is made manifest—a lunar landing, a foot print on an alien star. (Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace).

Comments

  1. kingfisher says

    Oh, what a poignant little musing, Laura. How fortunate you have been to get to read to your children. That little thread weaving you together! Even though the thread of reading together has been broken, the memories you spun will surely linger in their hearts even as they grow older. Could you read (tape) stories or lovely prose and share them with others? It wouldn’t be the same as the children melting against you or playing with your hair. But if you knew you were reading to a certain person, and they were going to listen to your voice, would that ward off the “missing”, or only make its missingness of the long-ago more real? You can read to me anytime you like, Laura dear! Even if only at the end of a phone line or via digital voice!

  2. kingfisher says

    Thank you, too, for the Bueckner quotes. Such hopeful words to read aloud, and then sit in the silence of contemplation.

  3. says

    know me. those words that break silence and give birth to something new. love this, one of my fave Buechner quotes of all time.

    precious friendship, Laura and Nancy. two dear sisters — part of the company known by their beautiful feet.

  4. Sharon O says

    This is so beautiful. So many layers of wonderful along with memories treasured and friendship shared. I loved it.
    Perhaps because when I was little I don’t remember anyone reading bedtime stories and it would be so simple to take a few minutes to give of oneself. With grand children now I try to make ‘soft sweet’ memories at bedtime. It is a gift from the heart to read and settle ones ‘soul’ before sleep comes. Good reading.

  5. amyscanderson says

    I love the way words and thoughts escape from you (and Buechner:). He’s my husband’s favorite author, I believe. We included a quote from him a few years ago in our Christmas letter because it expressed what we wanted to communicate so much better than we could. My girls listen to me after breakfast, and youngest will still listen at other times, but I miss it already even though it’s still happening. All these weavings of hearts and words are precious inside and outside of time.

  6. says

    Wow, Laura. You wow me. Read to me, please? You make my heart break and my mouth smile at the same time. Lucy Mae and “particularly stirring oration” — ha!

    We still read to our guys because we have made it clear that that WILL still be a part of our lives. ;-) Or maybe they know that if we quit, I will be desperate. It’s not quite the same without the footie PJs, though.

    I would love to read to you someday.

  7. says

    Ah, the double blessing (at LEAST double) of this post, the Buechner excerpt and your sentiment about what’s missing. Both resonate. I will be thinking about being “a family plot” for days now, I know.

    You hugged the book. I wanted to hug the screen but a laptop doesn’t feel quite the same. :-)

  8. says

    When my kids didn’t want me to read to them anymore, it was hard. I discovered that I loved reading aloud, and suddenly lost it. So, if we ever room together, we can take turns!

    In the meantime, I guess Polo and Clover will have to get used to me in a whole new way.

  9. Maureen says

    Oh, you leave me wishing my only were still young enough to read to. My consolation is knowing I created a book lover and deep reader.

    I have a friend who reads aloud with her husband, daily(!), which I think must be so intimate a kind of sharing between husband and wife. If only….

  10. OutnumberedMom says

    I miss having someone to read to, too. I read to my high school students sometimes, and they love it! And sometimes, I just read aloud to myself…

  11. says

    That is one of the toughest things about kids growing up and out. While I loved that my little guys took to the written word and read by themselves for hours, I will always miss that connection

  12. Cassandra Frear says

    There are many precious things which can only last for a time. A baby’s feet, the sound of a child’s voice, a lap for a seat, the feel of your child’s skin against your own. My reading days are gone, too.

    Will there be reading aloud to one another in heaven? What do you think?

  13. says

    When I read: I think it might have been my favorite moment from the weekend: these two pajama-clad women—she in her red, me in my blue—nearing middle-age, sipping white wine from plastic hotel cups and letting Frederick Buechner’s words draw an invisible, sinuous thread between us”

    I wanted to be there with you both. You know I have read bits and pieces of Buechner but never a full book. Need to get one and add that to my list.

    Come over anytime to my nest in NW Ohio. would love to sip wine and read together.

  14. says

    This is the first Buechner book I’ve read, Jean, and for that reason. Every quote I’ve ever read from him left me all atremble. My friend suggested this book because it’s short :). But I’m going to have to work my way through all of his words.

    It would be wonderful to sit and read with you some time. So sweet to find friends who fall in love with words the way I do.

  15. says

    Your boys are all grown up and mine are in-between. I guess there will always be things we miss about all the different seasons, don’t you think? But I do think I miss that snuggle time the most.

  16. says

    Isn’t that just so…huggable? I am feeling so left out that I haven’t read him before now. I definitely need to read Godric. If we were just a wee tiny bit closer we could start our own book club, Marilyn. It sounds like you have my same tastes :). And I’m not talking just about your good tomato soup (thought that was wonderful).

  17. says

    I never thought of this, Hazel. Maybe blogging is my way of compensating for the loss of read-aloud. Interesting. I think your dogs will love your work :). Dogs are great story-hunters, you know.

  18. says

    Maybe that’s what I am: desperate. :) Oh, thank you, Monica. I never thought our read-together time would ever end. Truth told, my youngest would still read with me–maybe forever. We read The Hunger Games together last year. But since they are teens now, their bedtimes are sometimes later than my own and so, for practical reasons, these things had to come to an end. But…never say never, I always say.

  19. says

    I can see why Buechner is a favorite of your husband’s–though my man would rather have a straightforward prose style. FB’s poetics make me swoon. And the way he sees…so deep. Sometimes I read aloud to the boys at the dinner table–usually when we are doing Advent devotionals or something special like that. It makes me so happy. I’m glad your girls are still enjoying your voice. That’s pretty special.

  20. says

    Sharon, we did not have books in our house when I was growing up–too poor. But at night, when my mom tucked us in, she would often tell us stories that she remembered from her childhood. Sometimes she would sing to us. Perhaps my nostalgia rings back to those sweet memories. For, they were so sweet. Yes, enjoy sharing stories with those grandkids!

  21. amyscanderson says

    I found the quote:) ~ “I knew that it couldn’t last forever, but that made it seem only the more precious, and I can remember moments of our being all together when, even though I knew that the children would grow up someday and we would be scattered, I knew also that there was something about those moments that would never end.” —from Now & Then: A Memoir of Vocation.

  22. says

    Oh, Laura, I am aching already- finding it hard to breathe as I read your words- because my warm-bodied-bed-headed babes are nearly too big for my lap these days. And just this morning as my six year old refused to finish his “reading homework” I found myself telling him all the great reasons he really does need to learn to read, but then , on the inside, I was thinking- “not yet, little guy, don’t figure this out yet-or you won’t need to climb on my lap to get your early morning dose of the Word, and you won’t bring me all those books about race cars and tractors and rockets and beg for me to “learn you’ a little bit more….” Yes, I feel your ache, friend. And if we could just shrink that distance between you and me, I’d GLADLY curl up in my pjs with you and let you read me a story :) or an incredible Buechner passage or just a rough draft of your own:) Thanks for the gift of this place.

  23. SimplyDarlene says

    Too bad I wasn’t there with you ladies, or this pajama clad gal woulda been rolling ’round on the floor in a fit of giggles just from sniffing your wine…

    I know there is a bigger, more profound message here, but I’ve got this active imagination thing going on. ;-)

    Blessings.

  24. smoothstones says

    I’ll tell you a beautiful secret. Ain’t a kindergarten teacher in your county who wouldn’t love to have 45 minutes per week to breathe at her desk while you read to her students.

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