the white fire of a great mystery

We have moments, all of us, when we wonder if we are on the right path and headed in the right direction. Or for me, I have stretches of days or weeks when I am not thinking much about the big picture. It’s just one foot in front of the other to accomplish all the things that need to be done. It’s one of the reasons I come to this space so often. I make myself sit down to write even when I’m not feeling it because it makes me pause, reflect, think. It makes me take the long view when I can hardly see what is in front of me.

I feel like all I do is put out fires. In September my home air conditioning had a hiccup that I was able to fix pretty quickly. In November, I was in a wreck which I wrote about before. In February, I was in a meeting at work when I got an urgent message to call my neighbor – which is a terrifying feeling. I was genuinely afraid my house was on fire, and almost relieved to hear that it was “only” exploding pipes in my front yard. I called the county water division to have them come turn off the water supply and then promptly called a plumber. By the time I got home from work, they were fixing it, and I turned over a $500 check. These bigger fires happen among the chaotic heat of the tiny ones that are simply part of parenting – remembering picture day and field trip forms and therapy appointments and ballet recitals and all of the things that dictate my weekly calendars.

Last week, my car air conditioning was acting pretty unreliable. It was not consistently cold, and by Friday afternoon, it was not cold at all. Norah and I commuted the 45 minutes home with the windows down, but it was already reaching 80 degrees, and any native southerner will tell you that you cannot mess around with a/c down here. So I suffered with it over the weekend but took it to a nearby shop on Monday morning hoping that it was a cheap and easy fix.

It wasn’t cheap or easy. It was the compressor. I needed a whole new one which is something like $900 in most cases.

So I called a couple of places and decided to go with the dealership where I purchased my car as they’d offer me a loaner car for the day it was in the shop. Jude was in school, and Norah and I pulled up to the service center that afternoon, and I unloaded her and both carseats and went inside to fill out paperwork. She was holding a mason jar full of worms that she’d captured earlier that day and refused to put down. (This child!) And for the most part, she was her enthusiastic self as we sorted out the details. I drove off with a borrowed car and a plan to return the next night after dinner with both kids to pick up my own car and pay something like $900.

There are things worse than this. There are mothers in Syria with bigger questions than I have. There are people reading these words right now with bigger problems than I am facing. But hardship is not a competition, and on Monday night, it felt so heavy. All of it. I went to bed panicked about money and tired of putting out fires and just craving someone else to help with all of this, to be honest. I know I am strong enough to shoulder any burden I face, but some days I grow so incredibly tired of shouldering it alone. I want someone else to make the phone calls and sort out the details for once and someone else to say it will be okay.

We got up the next day. I got Jude off to school, and Norah and I drove in. I graded like a madwoman to get it all done in time for that night’s final deadline. And that afternoon at my desk, my phone rang. The service coordinator for the dealership called me, and I’ll spare you all the details, but he basically said the mechanic observed me unloading car seats and tending to Norah, and he felt like he should pull a few strings for me. They did every last bit of my service for free. All of it.

I could hardly utter a string of thank you thank you thank you on the phone because I was so shocked. But when I hung up the tears came for sure. I drove home after a parent meeting for Norah and ate a hurried dinner with the kids. Then we buckled ourselves back in the borrowed car and headed out to get mine. When we drove home an hour later, the orange sunset was blazing on the driver’s side of the car, and the kids were begging for ice cream. I stopped to get them each a vanilla cone, and Norah said Mama, this is a good day, right? as it dripped down her chin. She was happy to be out past our normal hour and indulging in a treat – completely oblivious to how memorable the day was for me. How good it really was in that moment as relief poured from me for the first time in ages.

They are oblivious to it all, I hope. The stress and the worry and the never-ending questions that tumble through my head as I try to look at the long-term. It’s like looking directly at the sun. I’ve learned not to do it. I don’t know where I will be a year from now or a decade from now. But I hope they will always see the ice cream runs and the bath time laughs and the backyard play and not see how heavy it feels for me sometimes. At least for now. I want to shoulder the weight so that they don’t feel it.


I told a shorter version of this story on my personal Facebook page, and tonight I received a message from the mechanic who serviced my car. He said he “had a gut feeling [I] needed help” and looked me up on that same gut feeling. And he explained, “When I saw you on the service drive, something from deep within me placed a story on your situation, without knowing a thing about you. I could just sense a far deeper story to you … when I handled your repair order, I felt that it was meant to be and something needed to be done.”

In Mary Oliver’s poem “The Ponds,” she asserts, I want “to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing– that the light is everything.”

I’m casting aside the weight of facts tonight. I’m floating above this difficult world to see that white fire of mystery for what it is. There are things in life that you cannot even begin to explain or understand. The light is everything.




8 thoughts on “the white fire of a great mystery

  1. Oh, this is so good. I saw this on your Facebook and I kept going back to read it again because it made me cry happy tears each time. The fact that he contacted you adds even more loveliness to the story.

    You are putting good out into the universe. It comes back to you, you know? I really do think so. ❤

    1. I’m beginning to really think so, too. Sometimes it just takes a while and you have to look for it, but the good is returned to you eventually. It’s usually in subtle ways, but this week wasn’t subtle at all. The whole thing was such an incredible experience I won’t forget.

  2. this was wonderful, and the exhaustion of being the ‘one to shoulder it all’ is real, and sunny days are toppings on an icecream sunday, and i need to remember that they’ll eventually come back to me, too…

  3. This is so lovely. I found you on “Coffee and Crumbs” and have been digging through your archives since. So much good stuff here; don’t stop.

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