A couple weeks ago I finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and it is one of those books that when you finish the last word and set it down next to you the weight of it doesn’t go away. And as you go about your life it settles somewhere deep inside of you, keeping hold and becoming somehow a part of the inner workings of who you are from then on. This is what the best books do to us, and by us I mean those who count their best friends among both the living and the imagined characters that share our history with us. Those of us that create alternate universes that are populated by the people we love whose voices we only know in black and white.
When I think about my childhood, I think of Francie Nolan. I picture her reading on her fire escape and I picture myself somehow next to her there in the dappled afternoon light and I feel the warmth of that memory like it is one I actually experienced. In college it was Tim Hazard and Sylvia Plath and Rainer Maria Rilke. Their stories, so much wrapped up in my own, that it's almost impossible to fully explain myself without giving them mention.
Now that I am a mother I find I have so much less emotional energy and space for books that mean so much, for characters whose presence are so lasting. I reach for books and even movies that I don't have to think about once they are over. I am thankful though, that Extremely Loud is one that I made an exception for. The main character, Oskar, loses is dad in the twin towers on September 11th. The book deals with the aftermath of that moment and how the family chooses to mourn each in their individual ways.
Experiencing that kind of unimaginable pain through the eyes of a young child makes me think of my own little boys, their bright smiles and shining perfect eyes looking down at me from the picture on my mantle. The little boys that are sleeping peacefully right now at my parents house, completely unaware of what sadness is, of what pain and loss feels like. I want to drive across town and pull them from their beds into my arms, feel the sweaty warmth of their bodies through their footie pajamas. I want to wrap them up so tightly that they will never leave my arms and never grow up to know what we as adults know all too well, that people leave you without warning. I can't begin to explain how much I want to protect them from ever knowing that pain.
Tonight I mourn how deeply we are made to love our children, how painful it is to have such a love in your heart in such an imperfect world. That I can not protect them from whatever might happen in their future that will cause them sorrow. That one day they will be adults and the transparency and innocence in which they love me will be gone, and walls will be placed between us that my love will now be able to scale. And I mourn that my parents must love me that way, now, and I can’t become the child again that they probably want me to be, to love them in the way they want me to love them, ever again.