Betty Duffy

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On having a DREAM

My husband and I ran the seven mile block Sunday, which I haven't done since before I had kids. I didn't think I'd be able to finish it, couldn't utter more than two syllables at a time the entire way, so conversations went something like, "Tall corn," and "Dead bird," grunting verbalizations of the points of interest we passed along the way. It was very romantic.

Years ago, when my husband and I were getting to know each other, we went for a four mile run together, and I kicked his butt because I was coaching high school Cross Country, and he almost never ran. When we finished, we jumped in the lake and took turns pulling one another around on the inner tube, and more or less fell in love.

So we got married, and had babies, and I took a loooooong hiatus from running. I guess I took a long hiatus from a lot of things, which has been on my mind lately because my life is so different these days. I'm no longer on hiatus, but it's only been in the past several years that I did anything other than wipe bottoms, clean-up, and moon about using my "potential."

My "potential" was a real thorn in my side for awhile. My husband would go out for a run, and I'd think, "I used to be able to walk out the door like that. Now I'm the static person."

I liked to talk about it, or at least let people know I 'd once had potential. And then I'd give people a "you know how it is" look as I blamed my kids, or the circumstances of being a mother, for not using it. And there have been times when motherhood really did prohibit me from running or other activities in very practical ways. I don't discount that.

But if I look back with honesty, I can recall offering my potential in lieu of actual work even before marriage and kids. One of my cello teachers in high school chewed me out for showing up to a rehearsal without practicing, saying something to the effect of: "I know you think you're pretty cute so you can get away with not doing the work that everyone else has to do in order to succeed, but you're not going to waste my time that way."

He was right, and thence forward I wasn't so flippant with how I used other people's time, but I continued to cute my way out of using my own time wisely. And then I'd keep mooning, because it was easier than working.

I complained to my spiritual director about my unused potential, wondering why God would put these desires into my heart, to write, to run, to make music--or whatever the object of dissatisfaction was for the day--and then not allow me to do them. And she kept saying, there's plenty of time for all that. You'll know when the time is right--because it won't be a struggle against your vocation as a mother.

I didn't believe her. I thought that my education had been a waste, that all the interests I cultivated prior to motherhood had been in vain. I'd overhear some Disney princess on the TV singing songs about having a dream and think, "Let me know how that works out for you, Rapunzel."

In a brief quasi-fundamentalist streak, I thought I might discourage my daughter from developing any interests that would later be a source of disappointment to her. You want to be a mother? Then why go to college at all? Why develop any sort of an identity that God will just wrench out of you?

But I don't think the wrenching came from God. I'm the one who put everything on the altar to say, "Look, Folks, at everything I gave up." Not for my kids because they would have been glad to have an athletic, musical or writerly mother, rather than a grouch on the couch. Not for my husband. He didn't fall in love with a weak, whiny woman, so I'm not sure why I thought he'd like to be married to one.

I did it for my pride, which is a really bad thing to treat like a god. Maintaining the myth of my potential was safer than addressing the like potentialities of failure.

When I meditate on scripture daily, when I pray, when I rekindle the relationship with God that I had when I was a younger woman, the confirmation I receive is, "Here's your life. Do the work. Let it take you where it takes you. Just remain in my love." It's so simple. There's no aching or yearning or conflict. There's time.

And all of it comes with the knowledge that it really could be taken from me at God's hand whenever he wills. If I follow in the footsteps of any one of my grandparents, my body will fail me completely one day as will my mind. Everything that makes me me will turn to dust. Time is not for wasting.

My daughter recently started playing soccer, and the girls on her team run around with pony tails and red faces, wisps of hair falling over their ears, and this gorgeous athleticism that already holds so many promises. Some coaches in the league are really encouraging and any time someone runs towards the ball, they say, "Nice try, Linda!" Even if Linda never gets around to kicking it.

But there's always one coach yelling, "Attack, Barbara! Be aggressive! You're going the wrong way!" Parents are wincing every time the coach opens his mouth--but I sort of like the stronger encouragement. It is not enough just to will the ball to move. You've got to kick it. Attack!

It may make you a happier wife some day to be able to keep pace with the man you love. You may be a more effective Mother Superior if you've got a good education. And who knows if little Barbara isn't collaborating with God on something else completely unexpected.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Exciting Link!

I cannot get over how good this blog is: Steve Gershom "Catholic, Gay and Feeling Fine Thanks."

Steve is single, celibate, a faithful Catholic, and an insightful writer. And his writing is applicable to ANYONE struggling with anything in their lives. Like this post, which could be helpful to anyone, gay or straight, who struggles with being single or childless.

I'm going to stop there--because I might end up linking to every post. But set aside some time very soon to read his blog before he gets a book deal and you have to pay to read his writing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let there be banjo... or cello... or whatever

I spent two thirds of my life learning how to play an instrument, and then gave it up when I got pregnant. Granted, I got pregnant twice in a row, and then I had two toddlers who double timed me whenever I tried to play, and the cello is not like a violin that you can frolic around overhead and out of reach of their little hands. It's right there in their faces, and it was frustrating to worry about poking one of them in the eye with my bow, even though sometimes I wanted to do it on purpose.

But they're older now, and the baby really only likes to suck his thumb and push tractors around on the carpet, so he's no obstacle to cello playing. The only obstacle is my post-hibernation dustiness, weak and tender fingers, and a bow that needs re-haired. There've been all these videos going around online, heavy metal cello playing, like Apocalyptica playing Metallica covers. I've always been drawn to the song "One," because when I taught English, a relatively troubled student loaned me his Metallica CD so I could listen to that song and understand him somehow. I do detect a few grace-notes in there, a truly lovely piece, until it drops off into complete nihilism, which Apocalyptica plays skillfully, but it's nihilism nonetheless, which isn't my thing.

So it got me thinking that while I'm too shaky right now for classical music, I could definitely pull off a pizzicato bass line, or some mournful whole notes in the background of a pop song. A friend of mine runs a music co-op, putting contract musicians in touch with one another, so I asked him if it would be something I could do--get into his database, and maybe pick up some small gigs. He thought maybe his band could use me, and we made plans to get together and "jam"--which sounds funny to me. Jamming on the cello.

I've been practicing, and playing bass lines from songs I like. Rush always has a good bass line, even when the lyrics are cheesy; "Freewill" for instance. And then I thought I could pull in themes from certain hymns and punk them up a little, "Caelitum Joseph," maybe. And then I started thinking about old poems I wrote that stink as poems but might actually work as a pop song, and then I wanted to sing rather than play the cello, but I couldn't pull out a tune that sounded right, so I just sang hymns.

The baby, then, starts putting his hands over my mouth to shush me. He doesn't want me me to sing. Maybe because "O Sacred Head Surrounded" doesn't sound good when the songstress takes intermittent bites of dry Cheerios and chases it with coffee. Regardless, my singing voice is horse and off key and only sounds manageable at a low timbre like a lullaby. What if I whisper, Baby? Will the sound of mother's voice singing hymns in the morning be a grace note in your memory, or will the smell of coffee and dry cheerios, the throat clearing and chest bumping, and Shh Baby, Mommy's singing make you forever averse to this particular song?

Beauty requires discipline, which is the troubling thing about it, because discipline can be terribly, terribly ugly. Recall for instance, the mother combing her daughter's hair, and every time the bristles get stuck in a tangle, the daughter pulls away shrieking. The mother pulls back, holding the pony tail tighter and they're in a hair tug-of-war, till the daughter drops to her knees in a tantrum, and the mother walks out of the room saying, "It hurts to be beautiful. Doesn't it?"

But the product of discipline is nearly always a grace note, especially when it comes unwarranted, unsought, unscripted, as years ago when I sat in the upstairs bedroom reading a book at the lake house, and wind blew in the open windows, bringing with it the sound of wind chimes and my older brother playing the banjo. Slow at first as he found his bearings, soft like a lullaby, then faster, he practiced a few runs and put the banjo away.

We've had a troubled relationship, my brother and I, and whenever someone you painfully love produces something beautiful, that beauty becomes mythical somehow, something to chase and recapture. So I can't tell whether it's a sign of aging, or some quest for a mythical beauty I once knew that causes me to scroll through the radio stations in the car listening for banjo. It sounds honest to me, even played badly--let there be banjo.

Anyway, my son doesn't like my singing, but the way the kids all gather around when I play the cello, the way they ask for it now, I've realized that while I thought I was doing them a favor by putting the cello away, I was actually depriving them. And the baby goes around the house looking for objects to turn into a cello bow, like my husband's carpentry pencil, the flat kind that you sharpen with a pocket knife. He sits down on the floor next to me with his knee bent up, and runs the pencil lengthwise over his fibula saying, "I play cello, Mommy!"


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

People all over the world were contemplating the problem of evil, when it started to rain...

Another oldie:

Early this morning, I went for a run at my parents’ house. They live in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields, small rocky creeks, and woods that are mungy and green as a jungle at the moment. A threat of rain hung in the air, but it was cool enough that the mosquitoes didn’t cluster in the ditches and dips in the road.

I decided to run hills, which took me past the home of my parents’ illustrious neighbors: in the mid-nineties, a grown son, one of eight children, murdered his mother, father, and several siblings with a rifle, in broad daylight, at various points around their homestead. Some bodies were found in the house, some in the barn, some in the yard. He lived on grubs as a fugitive for several months, and was eventually found in a woods in Kentucky and put in jail. A surviving brother still occupies the home where the murders took place.

Passing the property always elicits a creepy feeling, especially on an overcast morning when not another soul is on the road. I wonder about the surviving brother, walking around in the presence of such ghosts. He keeps the blinds on the front of the house closed tight at all times because his house is a well-known point of interest. Even so many years later, his life takes place in the rear of the home.

I’ve been in a dark mood lately, oppressed perhaps. And contemplating the thin line between sanity and insanity, trying to make sense of how a child could lose it and open fire on his brothers, sisters and parents, brought all of my motherly fears to a crest. What did that mother think, as she looked down the barrel of a rifle her child pointed at her? What sadness, probably not for her own life, but for his, and for his survivors. And your heart, also, a sword shall pierce.

If it's possible for a family to end in such a fashion, why bother?

At that moment on my run the sky opened up and rain fell in sheets. I don’t remember the last time I was caught outside in a rainstorm. But if I needed, right then, to experience the Sacramental everyday, God gave me a Baptism that could wash away even the most incomprehensible sins. Within minutes I was soaked down to my underclothes, and had to hold my pants up as the water increased its gravitational pull. My darkness and worry turned instantly to exhilaration.

It sounds almost too cute that my spiritual relief could occur at the precise moment that the weather delivered on its threat in such a location. Who am I that God would make it rain because I needed it to rain right then and there? And does the rain do anything for that family-- the brother on the other side of those closed blinds?

But it did rain, and I want to think that God was telling me I had no need to make the acquaintance of despair. If the presence of evil in this world seems too large a threat to face, the rain says that God, when called upon, can conquer it with the slightest effort. Even if we can't see through to the other side of the storm.

So I ran on home, puddle jumping and feeling so gleeful that when an old farmer in his pick-up pulled up and said, “Need a lift?” I said, “No thanks. I feel great!” Not sure why I needed to inform the farmer of my mood in order to decline his ride. He shrugged his shoulders to say, “Suit yourself,” and drove on. And I wanted to call him back and say, “No, really, don’t take it personally. I don’t think you’re a weirdo for offering me a ride. I’m not afraid of this world. I’m just too happy to come in from the rain.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"You're on a Freight Train Headed for the Blues"

(--Jack White)

It's Ribberfest weekend! In honor of such a worthy occasion, here's a rerun:

Several months ago, my husband and I went to “Ribberfest,” a blues and ribs festival in Madison, Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River. I’ve never been much of a blues fan, and that night didn’t change it all for me, but it piqued my interest.

We sat on a stone wall next to a couple of bikers who’d been to this festival annually for the past few years. They were blues aficionados, and talked and sang and smoked as though anyone around them were welcome to join the conversation, so I did. Robben Ford played with a bassist and a drummer. I wasn’t familiar with the band, so I was listening for clues in the bikers’ conversation.

“They’re putting out a lot of sound for just three guys,” one of them said. I’d hardly noticed how many people were actually playing up there, because I just heard the product, a bluesy song that sounded much like every other bluesy song I’d ever heard.

“This guy’s the real deal,” said the other.

The real deal? “Why?” I asked, joining the conversation. Was it because he’d won a grammy? Because he’d collaborated with Joni Mitchell (a true accomplishment, in my opinion)? And if this guy was the real deal, why weren't there more people in the audience?

“Watch them closely,” the guy next to me said. “They’re having a conversation up there.”

I wanted to see this conversation up close, so I went up to the front of the stage, where the serious appreciators danced with their eyes closed.

The three members of the band breathed together. They communicated with eyes, with toes tapping, with the swaying of their bodies. Bass’s mouth puckered while his shoulders hunched. He appeared to be chewing. Reminded me of the puckered expression that would show up sometimes when people took pictures of me playing the cello, one of the reasons I was too vain to let go of myself and play with attitude. Drums watched him closely, then they both turned to Robben, who was getting down on the guitar. He was the leader, the big breath, the ignition. If he stopped, they would all stop.

My husband and I recently watched the documentary, “It Might Get Loud,” in which three iconic guitarists (Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White) come together to discuss their craft and make music. At one point, Jimmy Page talks about what it felt like to hit his groove in a band: “When passion meets competence, it’s absolute musical heaven.”

Yes, these guys were the real deal.

Pentimento spoke here (in the comments) about how music speaks a language beyond words, but I’ve found that the written word can also take on an aspect of "unspoken" communication.

In “It Might Get Loud,” The Edge said he considers the guitar his voice. He uses the sustain feature on his amplifiers to make his notes converse with the notes he played seconds before. His present music becomes a duet with the very recent past. I’ve always wondered what it was that made U2’s music so compelling. In a large part, it’s this conversation between the past and present, this "sustain," that has been taking place right under my nose all these years without my being aware of it.

I think Pentimento uses a sustain feature in her writing. I’ve often read one of her posts, like this one, and wondered what is it about her writing that makes me want to keep reading. It is the conversation between the past and present that is so skillfully executed, I hardly realize it’s taking place. It’s no coincidence she’s a musician as well as a writer.

“Music evokes location,” said the Edge. “Where is this music being played? Where does it take you?” The best writers evoke location. I’ve been thinking lately about what the particular music of the Midwest is these days. Maybe it’s these new blues, Robben Ford singing, “I want to see what it feels like to be nothing to nobody.” Midwesterners always want to ditch the good stuff and run off to the coast.

The Edge spoke of a moment in U2’s early days, acknowledging that no one in the band knew what they were doing. They weren’t trained musicians. And he one day had the realization, “Our limitations as musicians were not going to be a problem: I can do that.”

For about eight years after I started having kids, I didn't write much. I decided that instead of writing, I would be a reader. Someone had to buy the literary journals. Someone had to appreciate all the words sent off to find their way in the cosmos. I would be that person. I spent most days reading all the books to which I didn't pay attention in college, and others that my liberal professors wouldn't have assigned.

I read a lot of good writing. And a lot of bad writing. And one day, it dawned on me: "I can do that." I could write somewhere between the good and the bad. What do these people producing all these words have that I don't have? Is it competency? Is it passion? Is it time? Am I not allowed to write? I decided that I would not let my limitations, whatever they were, be a problem for me. I was allowing my limitations to intimidate me. I was allowing them to make me feel like an imposter in a world I was born to inhabit, not the "Literary World," so to speak, but the world of my every day life that I longed to decipher in the written word. The only way for my limitations to cease being limitations was to surpass them, daily, little by little.

Though my limitations are still likely a problem for whoever reads this blog, writing it makes me feel like I'm a part of that three-way conversation, picking up cues from, breathing in accord with God and the world around me. It's my own little Midwestern blues band I guess. Not quite "the real deal," but one of these days...



More Quotes from the Movie:

Edge on the creative process: “There will always be something if you keep going.

Jack White: “When you dig deeper into Rock and Roll you’re on a freight train headed for the blues.”

On writing music: “If you don’t have a struggle inside of you or around you, you have to make one up.”

Jimmy Page on early experimentation with dynamics on electric guitar in rock music: “It’s the whisper to the thunder, the quiet invites you in….Light and dark, crescendo—wouldn’t I want to be employing that?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Three good reasons NOT to see "Soul Surfer"

Trailer Here.

1. You knew how the boys would take it, that from the time the credits rolled until you dropped the DVD safely back into the Redbox at Walmart, they'd be asking if they could watch the part where she gets her arm bitten off by a shark just one more time.

2. You didn't foresee a sunny afternoon sitting out in the backyard, when your daughter would come sit sulkily next to you on the grass, sighing and pulling her knees up to her chin.

"What's the matter?" you ask.

"What am I going to do when I grow up?" she's almost crying. This is the question on which her happiness for the moment depends. She needs assurance that growing up isn't going to stink.

But it probably will, so you answer, "My guess is, whatever you work the hardest at."

"But I don't work hard at anything."

"You can fix that today!" you say cheerily. But she's not impressed. She's still sulking.

"Do you want to be a mom?" you ask. No.
"A teacher?" No.
"A musician?" No.

Suddenly, you can read her heart, and its desire dawns on you: "Do you want to be a surfer who gets her arm bitten off by a shark, then defies the odds and inspires a Nation in Crisis by getting back on her surf board?"

Your daughter looks up; she nods her head. Yes, it's what she wants to do.

"Better get crackin'."

3. But the greatest shock comes after the kids are in bed, and you round the corner to your bedroom, and discover your husband wearing little more than scivvies and sunglasses, lunging on the braided rug with his arms outstretched to either side.

"What the hell?" you say.

"I'm soul surfing," he answers.

He swivels his hips slightly over hypothetical waves, forcing you to ask the question, "Is this foreplay?" Time has taught you to nail down precisely when foreplay is taking place, lest you miss it altogether.

"As a matter of fact...it is foreplay!"

So you hit the lights, thinking shark attack is maybe the way to go.

And if you need a fourth reason, see here. But go ahead and rent the movie if you must. Carrie Underwood plays a Christian in it.


*Please note, the above scenarios are pure hypothesis. Any resemblance to actual Duffys is just a coincidence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Idiot of the day

I got pegged in the head with a soccer ball today. Quietly sitting in the grass, reading a magazine during my daughter's practice, and loving it, when POW! Suddenly I'm being stared at by a crowd of five-year-olds and their thirty-five-year-old parents.

Sort of makes you feel stupid.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The times are a'changing

It's happening that the mornings are cool, my 8 p.m. jog is no longer in broad daylight, four of my kids are about to go back to school, and my baby still at home is almost three years old. Sweet Heaven, what's happened to our youth?

When my older kids were born--boom, boom, boom--I thought it would be forever until my days were quiet, and now--boom, boom, boom--they're all school age--just like that. I'm buying pre-teen deodorant at the grocery store, and those interminable days I wished away when everyone was touching me and clawing for attention, seem appropriately, a decade ago. Mom's old news; there are friends to call.

I had a bundle of pictures developed from my online reservoirs, thinking it was only the past year I'd failed to document, but on their return, no, two years were gone in the time I'd allotted for one. And I don't feel a day older, until I see myself in a picture from years ago and think what a baby.

So where to from here? Go hear a rock band from the 80s and boogie-woogie with the grannies in caftans and faded tattoos, of course. My cousin and I gussied up to go hear Heart, an old favorite wailing band from heartsick nights of longing--and if you can't laugh at the spectacle of a stadium full of varicose romantics, still longing for wishes that were fulfilled years ago, you'd have to cry. The rockers keep trying to play a new song, but nobody wants to hear it.

And anyway, maybe nothing's over yet. No need to hurry myself into diapers, just because all my babies are out of them. I just can't imagine how it's going to go next.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Links

--Lauren, of Santa Clara Design, is giving away a free website design to a Catholic blogger, ministry or church. Might as well put your name in the pool.

--Misha Leigh of Kindbirds has a great post on Connection:
"If I am seeking connection in important ways and in key relationships, then it matters what I am connected to."

"...In some ways seeking connection can be a form of idolatry. If I am plugged into feedback and short term affirmation (facebook, email, texting, cells, even friendships at times) and prioritizing them with my time and my attention - than I am not finding satisfaction in feedback from one more vast, permanent and important source."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Virginity Looks Like

The Holy Kinship (c 1470), Westphalian School Saint Servatius Basilica Treasury, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


When I first looked at the painting in the back of last month's Magnificat, "The Holy Kinship," I was mesmerized by Mary, front and center, those wide eyes and doting mouth, so pleased with how things have worked out so far, both for her and the wise little baby-man standing there on her knee.

She looks young and virginal. I wondered how the artist managed to capture that innocence, and also, what are the physical qualities of virginity? Because there is something in the look of her face that distinguishes her from the other women in the assembly.

Back in high school, when I was experimenting with wearing make-up, my grandma used to tell me not to put on too much, or it would make me look "hard." A single girl who was "hard," it was understood, didn't have anyone in her life to tell her to tone down the eyeliner, and she also probably had more experience than was good for her. The implication being that sex outside of marriage was not just a sin, but it also made you look funny, a double deterrent.

Nevertheless, I had some idea of what she was talking about. There were very subtle facial changes in girls I knew who had lost their virginity. Their features didn't change, but their expression changed, from a look of openness that hid nothing, to a look that concealed a secret knowledge. Sometimes the expression was accompanied by a look of smug infatuation--the girl was hopelessly in love. Sometimes the expression bore a look of disappointment--sex had not yielded what she thought it might. Occasionally, there was a look of rule defying belligerence.

Sexual experience seems to affect the appearance of married women differently. I went to adoration last week, looked around at my fellow worshippers, all gray-haired ladies, and noted there wasn't a virgin in the house, a thought corroborated by the wedding rings on every hand (and the fashions of their clothing which differentiated them from any of the local nuns).

In the case of the married woman, or women who have become mothers, the cat's out of the bag, so to speak, so there's nothing hidden and withholding in her expression. But sometimes there's still a look that could pass for sadness or disappointment. Nothing prepares a woman for the heartache raising kids can entail.

Part of the artist's success in capturing Mary's virginity in the painting above, has to do with the way he also captured the knowing expressions of the matrons in the picture. The breastfeeding mother to the left of the Holy Family looks downright weary. Her eyes are not on her child, or the other children, but she seems to look within herself at some troubling specter.

The woman to the right of the Holy Family has a wry little smile suggesting she thinks this whole business is a bit of a joke: her kids misbehaving, her husband fiddling with his spectacles, Saint Elizabeth there giving her kids an apple. Life's a madhouse, might as well laugh.

There's a sanguine matron, and a melancholy one, and on the far left, a mother very dutifully educating a little one from a book. I recognize my sister, my friends, my sisters-in-law in these women. I see myself, in the distracted expressions of all of them, even while they sit in the presence of God.

"And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband." (1 Corinthians 7:34)





Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

There's something conspiratorial about packing a comfortable nook in the car, sleeping in clothes and departing the house before dawn. The kids were all excitement at 4:30 a.m. though soon everyone realized they were tired and in one another's special nooks, big toes crossing invisible lines drawn on the car cushions with intermittent squawks of dissatisfaction. But we had arrived by noon, so the kids dropped their offenses alongside their car clothes as everyone changed into swimsuits to run down to the lake.

I took the four kids who could swim to the beach, which, with 60 degree temps and a threat of rain, was more or less deserted. This was the first year it seemed I wouldn't have to stress out about everyone being on the verge of drowning. If none of the kids were accomplished lap-swimmers, at least they could all keep afloat for a respectable distance. I opened my book.

The older kids swam out to the raft in inner-tubes through greenish water that varies in depth between four and eight feet. My oldest made it there first, standing on the raft doing a victory dance, some sort of sprockety, lizard-looking move where his skinny, elastic body turned inside out. He swung the tube over his head like a hoolahoop, until a wind lifted it off his extended hand and into the water.

When he didn't jump in after it, the waves carried it westward, near where his brother and sister shared another inner-tube. They'd been kicking out to the raft at a leisurely pace, but they changed direction, to chase the tube. When it passed them, my second oldest abandoned his sister in the tube to swim after the one they had lost.

By this time, I had put my book down. My five-year-old who had been raking some sand on the beach, put down the toys to watch the drama unfold.

The boy chasing the inner tube is not a great swimmer. He'd been on the swim team for two years, primarily because I thought he needed more practice in order to achieve competency. And yet, at the end of his most recent season, he still grew tired in the middle of one length of the pool.

As he neared the inner-tube, the wind picked up, and the hand with which he meant to grab the tube accidentally pushed it further away from him. It appeared I was going to have to chase the tube.

I like to swim, quite a bit, and ever since I was a kid, my policy has been to get in the water at least once a day while we're in Michigan. But it was our travel day, and it was cold, so I'd planned to give myself a pass. I slowly lowered myself into the water from the end of the dock, cold water thigh high, dreading the moment of no return when you just give up and drop your whole body in, shouting out the coldness. Waves lapped up to my hips as I stepped out deeper, avoiding rocks and muscles that slice the bottoms of your feet.

My son was still chasing the tube which had passed beyond the neighbor's dock. I yelled for him to abandon the mission, "Get back to the raft! I'll go get the tube!" But as he turned around to head back against the current, I could see that he was already tired.

The wonderful thing about the lake, that it has variant depths that make it ideal for wading, for swimming, for fishing and skiing, is also the thing that makes it dangerous. Swim ten feet in any direction, and the lake bottom is so inconsistent, you may have moved to a spot that's two feet over your head.

I could see that my boy had stopped moving in any direction and was barely keeping his head afloat. Quickly, I overcame the cold, and dove under to swim out to him. I thought I would be able to latch him onto my shoulders and walk him in, but I had not anticipated the water being over my head where he was treading.

As expected, when I reached him, he latched onto me, but walking in to shallower water was not going to be possible. Nor was swimming, as his weight on me prevented my getting above water for a breath. I would have told him to turn on his back and kick towards shore, but I couldn't give him any instruction. Each time I opened my mouth, it filled with water.

This is how tragedy happens. I was under water. I couldn't communicate. The boy couldn't swim. The other kids were stranded on a raft in rough water. The five-year-old was unsupervised on the shore, and no one was around.

Over the forty years that our family has come to this lake, a handful of people in the area have drowned. It never happens out in the blue water where the depths reach 80 to a hundred feet. I've always wondered how a grown person could drown in six feet of water. Did they have a heart attack? An aneurism? Were they drunk? Surely no one who is a competent swimmer and in good health meets such an end.

Just as I recognized the near proximity of death, the romance of the situation began to surface. My husband had had to work, and my dad didn't want to be away from the farm for two weeks, so my mom and I had driven up with the kids, to be joined by our spouses on Friday. She had driven to the store with the baby and would stop by the beach on her way back to the house.

Would any of us still be here? How long would it take for her to figure out who was under water, and where? How would my husband take it when they told him?

What an irony to have a double death on the first day of vacation--the mother who sacrificed her life for her child. I was glad to know I had it in me, actually. Considering the hypothetical possibilities of giving up my life for my children--I've always harbored a doubt. Perhaps I'm too selfish to throw myself in front of a truck for one of the kids.

I hadn't really had time to weigh my life against my son's. I just took one step, and then another, into deeper and deeper water, realizing slowly, that the whole death bit was going to be terribly anti-climactic. No witnesses, no noise, just the two of us, my son and I, engaged in a struggle under surface.

A struggle? Was I struggling? How long does it take for your life to flash before your eyes, and to imagine your life flashing before the eyes of everyone you know and love? Really, it takes less than half a minute, I'd say, and then you start to think about getting out of that situation.

It turns out that my sense of self-preservation is just slightly stronger than my sense of self-sacrifice, and while my life was flashing before my closed eyes in the depths of Crystal Lake, I was also very vigorously disentangling myself from my son's grasping body, so that I could push off the lake bottom up to the surface to catch a breath. I was successful.

He immediately latched onto me again, I went back under, disentangled myself again, pushed off and got another breath. It occurred to me, that I could not only push him off of me long enough to breathe, but that I could push him off and away from me, towards shore, that perhaps we could repeat this process of my pushing him off and away from me, until we bounced underwater to a more manageable depth.

And that's what we did. He only had to stay afloat while I took a breath, then I could take several steps under water with him attached to me, and push him off to come up for air. Once I figured out the system, it was sort of a cakewalk. Why had we panicked?

On shore, I stationed the boy in a chair. His lips were pale, but it was hard to say if that was from the cold or lack of oxygen. Otherwise, he was fine, terrorized, but fine. The two on the raft seemed not to have noticed that anything was amiss. They were still laughing and dancing. I called them in, and together they kicked ashore holding on to the remaining inner tube. The five-year-old had gone on digging his hole in the sand, which was now filling up with water.

Everyone was fine. We were all fine. We were going to go back to the house, rinse the sand off, and eat dinner. We were going to wake up the next day as usual. Only minutes ago, I had thought the world would wake up the following day without us in it, but now that prospect seemed absurd. We were going to go on living; no witnesses, no noise.