Image from Figital Revolution
When Christian was a very little boy, we went to visit my mother in Utah. Mom came to pick us up at the airport. When we got in her car, Christian looked around and said admiringly, "Nice taxi." I laughed and said, "This is a car." Christian looked at me in confusion, then repeated, "Taxi." For him, a car was a toy you rolled around on the radiator covers of our Manhattan apartment. A taxi was what you took when you were late for church or too tired to walk home from the museum.
He made us laugh again when we got to Mom's house. He saw her back yard through the sliding glass door of her kitchen: an expanse of green lined with trees and flowers. "Nice park," he whispered, his breath fogging up the glass. He had never seen a back yard before; he could only make sense of what he saw using his personal experience.
We all interpret events in our lives through the lens of context. Before Christian was born, Patrick and I planned a three-week vacation in France and Switzerland, to take place after Patrick graduated from law school. We hadn't had much of a honeymoon; this trip, three and a half years after our wedding, was to make up for that. I had never been to Europe before and spent several ecstatic months planning every detail of our adventure.
Before we bought our plane tickets, I went in to see my boss and asked to take my vacation time that September. She agreed, contingent on the availability of my partner to cover my responsibilities. My partner was a single mom with two school-age sons; when asked if she could cover for me, she answered that she had been planning to take September off because that was her scheduled time with her boys.
I expected that she would be overruled; seniority rules were strictly followed at my workplace, and I had been working there a year longer than my partner. Besides, I had asked first. But my boss, a single mother herself, made an exception. "I'm sorry. You'll have to take your trip in August," she told me, and that was that.
I fumed for days. Paris was going to be overrun with tourists in August, and the plane tickets were going to cost far more. It was going to be hot, and I would be six months pregnant at that point. Everything is ruined, I thought. Patrick consoled me, and I eventually realized that we'd just have to make the best of it. And we did. Our trip was idyllic--eight days in Paris, six days visiting the magnificent chateaus of the Loire Valley, and a restful week with Patrick's cousins in Lausanne--pure heaven.
The day after we got home, Patrick's brother Marc was in a helicopter accident off the Jersey shore. In a coma from the time he was pulled out of the ocean, he died four days later. Weeks into our grief, I realized that if I had gotten permission to take our trip in September, we would not have been able to go. What I had interpreted as a gross inconvenience I now saw as a tender mercy.
Sometimes things happen that shake us to our core, that force us out of our limited perspective and into viewing life at a new angle. In the thick of the trauma, blinded by fear, we may see only shadows. But if we are patient and faithful, the miracle of hindsight can give us a precious gift: the realization that the light was there all the time.