Looking up from my writing, I glanced out the window and noticed there was a police cruiser in my driveway; two female officers and a priest were headed up the walk. Confused, I opened the door and invited this unlikely threesome in like they were old friends. Barely inside the door, the first officer asked me if I was Mitzi. I registered that as odd since “Mitzi” is not my legal name. Attorneys, bank tellers and police officers all call me by my legal name, Jeri.
“Well yes, I am Mitzi. But how do you know that name?” I hesitated. “My legal name is Jeri…” Without answering, she asked me if I had a son named Journey. My pulse began to race. I nodded, “Yes, why…?”
“I am sorry, he died this morning. He stepped off the roof of a parking garage.”
When did I fail
When did I stop enjoying
The birds, the trees, the smell of rain
How did I fail
That now is what matters
That the future doesn’t exist yet
~Journey, 2003, 10th grade English
Few things are etched deeper and more permanently in a woman’s mind than the birth of her children. The neural pathways are forged not only by the memory of the details, but by the raw, emotional journey she has taken from the first twinge of a contraction to tearfully holding her child to her breast. Although I had the privilege of witnessing the pure love of a child through Joshua, my step son, who always felt like my bonus child, it wasn’t until Breaha was born in 1984 that I knew what mothers felt right after giving birth.
Meeting Breaha for the first time, seeing the intelligence and wonder looking back at me through those huge newborn eyes, changed me in an instant. No one ever tells you that, really. Or if they do, you don’t truly get it until it happens to you. My heart swelled with joy as I pulled her to my chest thinking, “My baby. This is my baby!” I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
Journey arrived three years later, on the first day of spring, in the warmth and safety of our home. It was March 20,1987, five days past his due date and my 27th birthday. Birthing at home with midwives was somewhat controversial in the 1980’s in Lansing, Michigan, but it felt like the best option for us at the time. It ended up being the best choice because Journey was born exactly two hours after my first contraction. The midwives arrived 20 minutes before he was born. Had we planned a hospital birth, I would have been one of those women you hear about, birthing their baby in the car; their husband driving way too fast thinking he can make it to the hospital, while the mother screams wildly, “Pull the car over. Now!”
The day Journey was born was unusually warm for the first day of spring. The sun shone brightly in a blue sky, and the afternoon temperature reached a balmy 70 degrees. The white lace curtains lifted in the gentle breeze of the open window. It was a wild and surreal two hours, but then, miraculously, I was holding my baby. Still in shock at the wonder if it all, I lifted my son and kissed his wrinkly, wet face. I was overcome with the joy of meeting him. I pulled him close and expected the familiar possessiveness of “my baby!” but instead, I knew with absolute certainty that he did not belong to me. He belonged to the world. For the briefest of moments, I also knew that he would leave me. My mind served up pictures of him traveling the world. Perhaps he would live in a foreign country? Or he would marry, and his wife would become his new family. Those thoughts were fleeting and were soon swept away with the bliss of new motherhood. I simply assumed we had given him the right name and he would travel the world. That memory faded but didn’t disappear completely. Occasionally and randomly throughout Journey’s life, I would recall that sensation and wonder.
Whispering words of love and welcome, I dropped into that wordless place of wonder. I inhaled the newness of him; a smell that most new parents know. My midwife friends and I joke that if we could bottle the scent of the newborn, the wars on the planet would cease. Snuggling Journey close, with Rex on one side of me and Breaha on the other, I knew what love was. I marveled that, up until then, I’d had it all wrong. Love is not a verb; it is not something we do. Love is a noun. It’s who we are.
Journey grew to be a chubby, animated, willful child. As soon as he could talk he seemed to understand wit. He was funny, and we often laughed uproariously at his antics. In addition to his emerging sense of humor, Journey was stubborn beyond belief. I remember wondering how that much determination could exist in such a tiny body. If Breaha was told to do something, she did it when asked. With Journey, he often contemplated his actions first. I could almost hear his mind processing the request and what the odds would be of getting away with not doing it.
We learned, as most parents do, what’s a deal breaker and what isn’t. For example, as a toddler, Journey did not like to wear shoes or socks. In the summer months, this wasn’t a problem. Come December, however, it was a bit of a different story. One chilly Thanksgiving when Journey was two and a half, we showed up at my mom’s house for a family gathering. Journey was in a winter coat, but barefoot. His feet were clearly cold, the color of raw meat, but he wasn’t complaining. My mom, on the other hand, gave me the hairy eyeball; she didn’t understand or agree with this new-fangled way of parenting willful kids. She herself had witnessed this stubbornness but she believed that a child, especially at that age, should just be made to do what the parents tell them to do.
There is something to be said for letting a child learn by natural consequences though, because from that point on, if it was cold outside, Journey donned his socks and boots without a word from any authority other than his own.
Building a strong spiritual foundation was as important to us as math and reading. Children however, are so close to the Infinite, that I often felt like they were the clearer teachers in such matters.
One afternoon when Journey was just three years old, he came running from his room where he had been playing quietly with his Duplo blocks. “I’m hungry!” and in the same breathless sentence, “Jesus came to play blocks with me!” For several moments, I was speechless. The children heard us pray and refer to God often enough; but Jesus not so much. I had an uncertain relationship with Jesus that came from misunderstandings that took place as a child. Well-meaning family members spent a lot of time trying to convince me, an 8-year old, that I would suffer for eternity if I didn’t confess my sins and become saved. So, Jesus and I? Well, we were still working it out.
Breaha broke the silence, “Oh Journey, what did he look like?”
“He was very sparkly,” Journey answered with authority. I finally recovered and asked Journey if Jesus spoke to him. “Yes! He said one day I would have a beautiful shiny body like his.”
Later that night as I prayed, instead of addressing God, I spoke to Jesus. As humbly as I could, I asked for clarification. “Dear Jesus, why did you visit Journey this afternoon? What does it mean ‘he will have a shiny body like yours someday?’” I was hoping for an answer right then and there, but none came. It would be another 22 years before I would understand the profundity of Jesus’ visit with Journey that day.