Absolute truths

February 23,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

In one of my classes last week, we talked about the concept of universal truths--known also as absolute truths--and about the need human beings have for each other. An absolute truth, by the way, is an unalterable and permanent fact, and we all have different understandings of what absolute truths are in our own lives. In my class we talked about how humans need connections, and that it's impossible for a person to exist in isolation and flourish and survive. We were talking specifically about how people overcome (through the written word) tragedy, war, destruction, assaults on human dignity, but it applies to all of us. It's an absolute truth that people need people, even if we don't always realize this. I've always known this, if I haven't always fully understood what it meant at times in my life. Becoming a parent is one way to really appreciate--very quickly--what it means to have family to reach out to, and friends who are there to lend a supportive ear. Even though we're unlucky that we don't have our children's grandparents nearby, we're lucky in that our families have done much for us over the years to help us out. But out of all the support we've received--both financial and emotional--and all the guidance through dark times and good times, I always think back to one moment in particular: the night my mom gave me back my sanity. This in no way devalues other moments of help we've received, but this one I'll always remember, for many reasons. T. was a colicky baby. If you've lived through colic, you might still remember what it's like and probably shudder a little at the memory. Parents who haven't experienced colic only think they've suffered, with occasional crying jags and fussiness and late nights. But until you've looked colic face-on, until you've lived the exhaustion, the anger, the burning resentment, the fear, the crippling can't-see-straight blindness that descends upon you at 12:00 a.m. when you're into the fourth straight hour of unstoppable crying, you have no idea at all about the shadowy horrors lying at the bottom of the colic pit. My parents came to visit us during the darkest point of all this--we had in fact descended so low that it was a type of intervention of sorts. We needed help, Big Time. That first night they were there, my mom took T. into her room and I went to bed, collapsing into sleep immediately without caring whether I even woke again, I was so rock-bottom exhausted. My mom held T. and walked with her and endured the wakefulness and the crying until T. gave in and slept, as quickly as if someone had turned off a switch. I remember waking briefly that night to the sight of my mother near our bed. She set a sleeping T. down next to me and tiptoed off again, and I slept on. When I awoke to nurse T. hours later, I felt like a human being again--capable, maternal, sane, and ready to face the next hour--all those unthinkable demons that had raised their heads in the previous weeks seemed just that: demons born of too little sleep, too many competing emotions, and roller-coaster hormones. Things didn't immediately improve, but for some reason that reconnection, that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, gave us the strength to see the colic run its course. Just knowing we had help--we had shared the anguish--was a beacon of light. I don't remember how we made it through the remaining weeks of T.'s colic, but I know we made it through--we had turned the corner that night, and I'll never forget that. It's been a while since I've thought about that night. But my parents came this past weekend, after a few weeks in a row of stress and roller-coaster emotions and too many weighty decisions to be made and too much to deal with. Sometimes when Scott and I close ranks and pull in tight around our family problems and challenges, we lose sight of the light at the other end. We get so bogged down with getting through the day-to-day that perspective is lost. But having my parents here, if just for a quick weekend, was that connection to the outside world we needed. We are not in this alone, and light always glimmers at the other end--open arms waiting to take you in, shoulders ready to push through obstacles alongside you. And out of all those universal truths that exist out there, the one about all of us needing family and unconditional love is perhaps the most important; for without it we're alone, untethered, floating like lost satellites in our own dark spaces. ******** The kids and I worked on a great family connections craft yesterday. I was going to include it here, but you know me--too wordy... Check back tomorrow!