"The world is so full and abundant it is like a pregnant woman carrying a child in one arm and leading another by the hand."
-Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter
I recently read this book for the first time and when I came upon this quote I wept. Not just a couple of tears welling in the corners of my eyes. But I actually wept.
"It's me," I thought.
Just in case you were conjuring up images of me calmly leading my docile children through a field of wild flowers, that's not what I mean. No, it's me awkwardly balancing Trixie on my hip next to my giant pregnant belly, sweat running down my face, grabbing hold of Johnny's hand amid protests, scrambling to get to the next thing.
Like last weekend. Alex was singing for Mass and I was alone in the pew with the kids. The time came to go up and receive Communion and at that exact same moment Trixie decided she had no desire to go. She screamed and would not move. The usher was patiently waiting for me to exit my pew, and the people in the pew behind me were standing up and beginning to shuffle towards the center aisle. There was no time to negotiate, I scooped up the girl and dragged along the boy while the wailing of both children echoed off the church walls.
These are the kinds of chaotic moments that come to mind when I read this quote, but that's not what brought on the flood of emotions. It was that it made me realize something that I often take for granted: my life is full and abundant.
I just have to choose to see it that way.
It's easy to look at my life and only see the ways in which it is deficient. A house that needs more work than we can afford put into it. A bank account that is strapped by student debt. Day after monotonous day spent wiping butts and calming tantrums and answering a million "why?" questions. A college education that appears to be wasted on folding mountains of laundry and getting three separate meals prepared and onto the table.
Sometimes it seems less than ideal. Yet it doesn't take much looking to see that there is abundance.
There's three square meals every day, more food than most of the world has access to. There's plenty of clothing to put on our backs. There's a husband with a job he loves that provides for our needs. There's healthy, active, inquisitive children who by relying on me for everything force me to become the very best version of myself.
It's not a worldly kind of abundance - cushy job, cool car, fancy vacations. It's not even a convenient kind of abundance- house that fits my needs, order and organization, time and space to pursue meaningful work or hobbies. This is an inconvenient kind of abundance. The kind of abundance that gets you a couple second glances in the grocery store parking lot, or the pediatrician's office. Especially when the child in my arm is screaming and the one I'm leading by the hand is trying to get away from me.
But this kind of abundance has longevity. It's not one week of luxury in some exotic place. It's not a fluctuating number that bows to the whims of Wall Street. It's not some manufactured machine that will be obsolete by the time I finish typing this sentence, leaving me hungry for the next big thing.
This is an abundance that will be here tomorrow and the next day and next year and forty years from now when the fine lines in my face have turned into deep furrows of memories, planted over time, watered with tears, fed with laughter. When the faces around me have multiplied, and the names of Alex and my descendants fan out beneath me like the branches of a great pine tree. When the perimeters of my heart have been so stretched by love that it no longer resembles the poor shack that it was before I married my husband, and our children were born, but now looks more like a cathedral and the souls that fill it are the only things I desire to bring with me when I am called from this world to the next.
That's what this quote reminds me of. And that's what I will remind myself of the next time my back feels like it's going to break under the weight of my abundance, and I am tempted to envy someone else's life. It's not always ideal, and it's certainly not easy, but my life is full, and my life is crazy abundant.