Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in. --Isaiah 58:1
The first time I visited the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, I rode shotgun in a 15-passenger van full of teenage girls. I taught social justice that year and had the opportunity to help one of my colleagues lead a service trip to NOLA during Spring Break. I taught or would eventually teach all of the girls on the trip, and here we were, about to walk through streets where the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina brought some of the United States' most pernicious social injustices into sharp focus. Experiential learning at its finest.
One thing that stood out in the devastated neighborhood were sets of concrete steps dotted across the landscape at regular intervals. I knew they used to lead to front porches where families and friends would congregate; the front porch culture of New Orleans is one of the things I love most about the Crescent City. But on that night, with the houses behind them gone, they stood as forlorn thresholds, the kind that make most people shudder--the kind leading nowhere.
For a long time, post-divorce life felt like those abandoned porch steps. Remnants of my former life still dot the current landscape at regular intervals, reminders of things that once were but never will be again. A wedding ring I used to twist around my finger when I felt anxious, that used to spray dots of light like a kaleidoscope across the interior of the car when sunlight caught it the right way. Furniture we bought when we remodeled the kitchen: a pie safe where we stored china, a plant rack used to hold pots and pans, counter stools that fit perfectly under the island I loved so much. Material things which used to occupy a prominent place now tucked away in drawers or pushed into corners. They don't carry the weight they used to.
But then there are the kids. Three lives that started out in one direction and abruptly had to change course. Three sets of grief and loss as well as hopes and dreams. Three sets of growth in big spurts and small daily shifts. Three sets of needs and wants and priorities. Three sets of milestones, three sets of "firsts" and "lasts." Three human beings who will never be anything other than front and center in my life, who rightfully take up the lion's share of my time and energy and focus.
I will probably end up selling the wedding ring; eventually I will give away the stools and the other furniture. Stuff gets old and wears out or needs to be converted to cash to fund something more valuable. Those things will fade out of my life because they lead nowhere for me. Maybe they will lead somewhere for someone else; for me, they are something to climb and then jump to the ground on the other side.
But my children--the relationships I have with each of them individually, the ties that bind us together as a family--those have to be rebuilt, repaired, restored. Our threshold needs to open into rest and understanding and our own little community. We need a solid foundation for our lives, a foundation strong enough to sustain us as well as the lives that become intertwined with ours and the lives flowing from my children into a new generation someday.
I appreciate the reassurance from Isaiah that such restoration is possible. I feel a kinship with generations of people stretching back thousands and thousands of years who had their own ruins to rebuild. To be human is to blow things up and then try to put them back together again, one piece at a time. Sometimes that looks like kindness and mercy and a healing touch in the bruised and broken places; sometimes it looks like a wooden frame and some nails.
Sometimes it looks like both.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.