The Scent of Heaven

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:19, NAB

When I went into the hospital on November 30th, I gave myself permission to take it easy for a while. I was supposed to have a whole lot more done before that happened–a proposed table of contents for a new book, a couple of columns, some music. The early delivery rearranged my plans; the NICU stay gave me time to get done more than I thought. But when I came home, I gave myself until the first of the year to rest, to recover, to adjust…in short, simply to be.

Some of it has been stressful, some of it sublime. I’ve handled it with grace, and without. But at all times, I’ve tried to stop and really be present to the moment–to feel it in my body, not just in some compartmentalized corner of my brain, or with my eyes through the screen of a digital camera. In the past month, I have sat in my nursing corner in the darkness and watched Orion trek across the night sky. I have sat there on bright mornings, with the newborn sun aglow on the walls while my other children play on my bed, reducing each other to helpless, jelly-kneed giggles while they wait their turn to hold Baby Brother. I have gotten back under the covers with my family, three, four, five people lined up across two pillows, and run my hands over each one, glorying in the distinct progression against my palms as I touch arms and faces: adulthood, age six, almost- five, almost-three, and infancy.

I have watched yet another baby work his magic on everyone around him.  I have tiptoed around an umbilical cord stump that refused to fall off, tried to soothe him through very cold baths on a towel on the bathroom floor. Changed diapers that smell cheesy and yeasty, and didn’t hold my nose, admitting softly to myself that I actually kind of like that breastmilk-diaper smell.

I have slept in, napped in the sunny (and not-so-sunny) afternoons, watched movies, done very little housework, occasionally overdone it and paid the price in my incisions. I have gone to way too many medical appointments and never bothered to take work with me, choosing instead to hold a baby and be still instead of productive while I waited in overheated waiting rooms. The last two days, I have lounged back to enjoy the solid, warm soft weight of a child against my chest, pressing my nose to his head to breathe in that scent of Heaven, the smell of chrism, while my lips press against silky eyebrows and satin skin.

And now it is January third, and time is up. The baptism and extended holiday visits from family members have gifted me with some extra days, but now reality begins to settle back in, bit by bit: cooking, cleaning, laundry, lessons, deadlines. But the experience has taught me that I need a new balance for a new year–one that achieves fewer words or notes on a page and more moments. One that involves being present when my children are filling my soul instead of keeping my brain busy in the background working on some problem to be solved at naptime.

Today is bath day, and I think when I put Michael in the tub for the first time (his recalcitrant cord finally gave up the ghost on the last night of the old year), I won’t wash his hair. Maybe not the next time, either. The smell of chrism won’t last forever–the scent of Heaven will fade along with the inner hum of stillness found this past month, as normal life settles in once more. But while it lasts, I can use it to anchor myself in the resolve for this new year.

Just Write