I just finished Here if You Need Me, a beautiful, unexpected memoir by Kate Braestrup. The story is about her life after the early and accidental death of her police officer husband. She enters the ministry and describes life with her four young children in writing that is both simple and compelling, funny and sad.
The memoir is short and a quick read, but I imagine it will stay with me for a long time. Braestrup’s incandescently hopeful outlook on the world is earned and thoughtful, not naive and untested. She writes about the redemptive power of love and about how life can be changed in a single second. Even when the change is one you did not anticipate and would never have chosen, she argues, life can reassemble in beautiful new ways. She mulls the power of showing up and shutting up – something I could clearly learn. She also articulates a relationship to God and religion that is simultaneously complicated and very clean. As someone who struggles sometimes with the traditional definitions of faith, this combination is very appealing.
As usual, she can say it a thousand times better than I can. A few passages from this book that I heartily recommend.
And my whole, lovely job at that moment was to bear witness to rejoicing and to join in the gladness of the coming day.
Eventually, my heart – my fragile glass heart – would again be offered to the mortal hands of another man guaranteed to break it, one way or another, since that is the lunacy and loveliness of love.
I felt a pang of anticipated loss, sharp enough to prickle in my eyes; it wouldn’t be long before Zach would be too big to sit on my lap or be tickled out of an existential crisis.
I am sympathetic. I too want wildness, the existential freedom, the release and exaltation of being in and of a world in which humanity is only one dimension of the whole. But then I want it to end. If I am lost, I want the wardens to come find me.
“Don’t drink and swim.” “Wear a helmet.” “Make your stand in the parking lot,” I tell my children, as if I can hector them into a lifelong immunity from fear and pain. As a mother, I pray for miracles of the most ordinary kind on their behalf: I want their hearts to keep beating. I want them to live. But then, a grateful heart beats in a world of miracles. If I could only speak one prayer for you, my children, it would be that your hearts would not only beat but grow ever greater in gratitude, that your lives, however long they prove to be and no matter how they end, continue to bring you miracles in abundance.
her first prayer to the police officers and game wardens she works with:
May you be granted capable and amusing comrades, observant witnesses, and gentle homecomings.
May you be granted respite from what you must know of human evil, and refuge from what you must know of human pain.
May God defend the goodness in your hearts.
May God defend the sweetness in your souls.