This past week began with a baptism and celebration of a friend’s baby and ended with a funeral for another friend. From one end of the spectrum to another…and it reminded me of both the beauty and pain of life.
When my son was a baby, a friend gave me the children’s book Let Me Hold You Longer by Karen Kingsbury. It’s a beautifully sweet picture book that reminds parents to not only enjoy the “firsts” of their little ones, but also the “lasts,” too. I could never (still can’t) get through it without tears. “Mom, why are you crying? Is something wrong?” my little man would ask as he looked up at me with big eyes, wondering why the tears were welling as I read to him. Through my sniffles, I would reassure him that all was well…but I could already feel the time slipping away.
And that is indeed life. We have certain things in our lives that happen to a rhythm, but then one day the rhythm changes, and what was routine is no longer. Aware of this, I really do strive to be mindful of “lasts” with my son. Like when he grew to the age where carrying him was getting harder and harder, it would flash across my mind, “Could this be the last time?” I didn’t want to take anything for granted; I wanted to tuck the memory away in my heart for safekeeping.
But even with that mindfulness, there is no way to know the lasts for most things. I didn’t know the last time my son would snuggle on my lap and really fit my lap. Or the last time he would say “brefkist” instead of “breakfast.” And I doubt I’ll know the last time he willingly holds my hand as a boy—though there will most likely come the day he will hold my hand as a man in order to make sure his old mom doesn’t fall.
Even though I know the lasts are coming, I simply don’t know when in order to be able to savor them in the moment.
Sometimes I recognize the lasts in hindsight. Having lost my dad at a relatively young age, I still sometimes reflect on the “lasts” of my time with him. The “lasts” I didn’t know were lasts until he was gone. Especially while looking at old photos, I find myself noting, “That was the last vacation we ever took,” or “this was the last birthday he celebrated…”
I wonder what would have changed if I knew it was a “last” for us? Certainly Kingsbury’s book title reflects the answer. Knowing would be so very bittersweet.
My heart hurts for my friend whose husband’s funeral I just attended. She had no idea of the lasts that she was experiencing. There was a familiar rhythm to life, and then, in an instant…he was gone. The “lasts” had been recorded without warning.
And now, along with the “lasts” she may eventually come to know, she will embark on a whole new journey of “firsts.” While many of the “firsts” are painful—like first holidays celebrated or returning to a favorite place filled with memories—the day will come when some firsts will offer the hope of better days, and new life rhythms will be created. The “lasts” are final, but the “firsts” can just keep coming. Thank God for that.
In the end, the firsts and lasts of life are only part of the story. Important parts—but not the only parts. They help us mark times of growth or change, but if they escape us, life goes on. The rest is the InBetween.
And so, for me, I must continually strive to be present for the InBetween, aware of the fragility of it all but savoring the beauty of it as best I can…Listening for the rhythms of life and dancing to the beat of each day’s song.