Updated: Mar 20, 2021
All it takes sometimes, is the will to stand up.
The sound of basketballs smacking the gym floor has become a steady rhythm in my head. If I just look forward, I won’t seem interested in them. If I lean back against the blue mat wall just an inch more they are entirely out of sight. My phone is in my pocket, don’t check it Johnna, you are here to watch Levi play basketball, don’t seem distracted. Oh the baby is crying, don’t look, it’s not my baby, I can’t care.
Levi’s team takes a water break, he jogs over to his dad and step mom, hugs them, then runs to me. “Why are you so far away? You see my brother? Isn’t he cute?” He’s gone before I can answer, back out into the pack of children throwing large sized balls at each other.
Why am I so far away? Why am I trying to melt into the wall, you mean? Levi can’t hide his emotions sometimes, and I can tell he’s frustrated that we try to pretend like all is well and it’s totally normal and ok to have a split family, but then why I am on the other side of the gym? He sees straight through it, feels the divide more than any of us ever will. I watch him out there, looking from them to me, and know that I have no choice but to act.
My heart starts racing, I pull my hat down over my head a little more, lift it up again, pull it down again. My palms feel sweaty and I’m mad at myself for this. I’m in my typical saturday workout clothes since I just came from class, and my face is a constellation of red dots which is just lovely when you’re over 30. I decide I am going to walk across the gym and congratulate them. I am going to stand up and cross this threshold between us, this wall that is sky high that has led us to believe we cannot even glance in the other’s direction, let alone say hello.
It becomes so clear, suddenly. It can remain this way, both of us on the opposite sides of wherever we are. We won’t greet each other, we won’t let any warmth slip from one side to the other. We will hug our anger, the past, the places that ache inside us for how we did it all wrong, and never move forward. We can say this is normal, this is how most people who don’t work out and split up and start new families do things, with silence and coldness and breaths sucked in tight.
I can just stand up and break this barrier between us. Smash those lies to the ground that this is how it has to be. I feel it prickling on my skin, the desire to just move closer to them, look at their baby boy, let words tumble out of my mouth and travel the crumbling distance between us, a rope to save us. For years now it’s been short texts and never eye contact. I’ve swallowed the lie that it has to be this way.
But I can’t stand up.
The lies are so comforting. Hate is so much easier.
And then I am walking, my legs numb, my hands limp at my sides. I am moving towards them before my brain can catch up. I am holding my breath.
At first she doesn’t look up, remains staring out at Levi’s team, her legs bouncing the mom bounce that never ends once it starts. So I tell her that. I look her in the eye and welcome her into motherhood. She can feel the honesty in it, she can recognize that my words aren’t fake, that I am open and raw and here, beside them. Levi’s dad is on the verge of elated, which makes me laugh out loud, because maybe we all desired this more than I’ll ever know. They make room for me and I sit down, and we tell stories about Levi, how he’s wild and curious and so loud. We talk about his need to have a platform on YouTube to teach the world his ideas, and soon everyone’s shoulders are relaxed and we skip between laughter and quiet, comfortable pauses. His dad shows me a picture of Levi as a newborn and then his new son and I can’t believe it, my son who has my face and their son who doesn’t know me share such similar traits. It seems like a joke, so I laugh. I don’t want to cross back into the divide, where everything is blurry and there’s blame and guilt and messiness. I want to stay here, at Levi’s basketball game, on three folding chairs with a sleeping baby in the middle and a boy with their last name as our common ground.
Before practice is over, while sneakers are still squeaking against the floor and basketballs are still making music around us, I offer them my rocking chair. I can see her sigh a deep sigh, how badly they may need it. I expect I am being insincere, since I love that rocking chair that put Levi to sleep for years. But I want them to have it. I want Levi’s brother to fall asleep in it as well. It’s an offering, something tangible to leave across the threshold, in case we get lost again. Yes, they say. Yes.
I never went back to my seat. I remained there, with them, and felt the smallest seed of something sew itself into my fabric. Hope. I think it felt like hope.
The will to stand up and walk across that threshold of assumption and fear and misunderstanding and old wounds made space for grace where grace hadn’t been. Grace transcends our own wills, our own brokenness and hurt, and leads us to higher ground. All I had to do was stand up and the rest was already in motion. They received me, I received them, and Levi was able to rest in the joy of seeing us together. His family.
I don’t want to return to how it was. Now that I’ve tasted what unity feels like I desire it more deeply, without conflict or judgement. Now that I know what can be, I don’t want to return to those ugly lies that are always ready and waiting to deceive.
I want more.
Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
So if you can, stand up.