Why letting go of a loved one for Lent can lead to salvation
Not long ago I walked outside my front door and found a little stuffed bunny on the sidewalk. “Oh dear” I thought, “someone lost their friend!” I was immediately transported back to six years ago, when my youngest son Julian—then three years old—lost his best friend Cozy; the bear. Cozy was originally a gift to my older son who is now fourteen, so technically he’s been in the family for fourteen years. My first born was not drawn to stuffed animals as we imagine all kids are (they’re not) and so Cozy sat on a dark shelf in a closet somewhere for 5 years.
I have no memory of how Cozy found his way into the arms of my younger son but somehow he did and now—9 years later, no one in our family can recall life without him. Cozy comes with us everywhere. Cozy was in Italy with us when we lived there for 6 months. Cozy moved from Maine to Boston with us. Cozy comes on vacations with us. He comes to Maine in the summer with us and now that children’s father and I have since divorced—Cozy moves back and forth from house to house with my son. As Julian has often proclaimed, “Cozy loves me!” We love Cozy back.
Six years ago, when my husband and I were still together and my family was still intact, Julian was not yet in school and spent his days with our French aupair Lorraine. Lorraine was a sweet and demure young woman with gentle disposition. After initially having gotten off to a rocky start with Julian, they eventually settled into a daily routine of walks around town in the stroller—with Cozy along for the ride. Lorraine took Julian to parks and to playgrounds. They rode on the subway and strolled in and around Harvard square. Their days were filled with familiar activities that became routine and comforting—just like Cozy. In the winter Lorraine would bundle Julian up in blankets as he reclined comfortably back in his stroller. Holding Cozy tightly by his side Julian would drift off to dreamland while Lorraine pushed them both around the streets of Cambridge and Boston. Each day Julian and Lorraine would return from their daily forays and share their adventures with the rest of the family. In the evening Cozy would accompany Julian to bed where his presence was absolutely and positively crucial for a peaceful nights sleep. Then one day something went terribly wrong.
On an afternoon like any other, Lorraine and Julian returned from their daily trip to the city. Julian was spry and full of chatter as usual. Lorraine began her daily routine of unpacking the stroller. Lunch refuse, blankets and the sippy-cup were all extracted from the back compartment of the stroller and stowed in the appropriate place for the evening. As I glanced in Lorraine’s direction, I noticed an unusually panicky look on her face. I became immediately alarmed. No words needed to pass between us—I knew immediately from the pained look on her face that Cozy was gone. My heart dropped into my stomach. No. Please, God no!
My face went white. “Check the playground”, was all I could manage to spit forth as I held back the urge to vomit. Lorraine’s face filled with dread as she turned on her heals and walked out the door. I was left to shift fully into crisis management mode (a quality I inherited from my mother, the queen of crisis control).
My mind was racing. How could we manage the disappearance of this bear that we had come to think of as part of our own family?! Cozy was essential. I thought about trying to find another cuddly-bear-type stuffed animal. If it were similar enough, perhaps Julian would accept it as a stand in. This made about as much sense as asking the mother of a missing child if she’ll take some other kid instead—same height, same hair color; what’s the difference? A kid’s a kid, right? This is craziness my brain screamed. I knew Julian would accept no substitutes. Still, I rummaged through the closet full of rejects. I chose a few to tuck by his side while he watched Thomas the Tank Engine, oblivious to the crisis at hand. Irrationally I thought, Maybe he’ll get used to the smell of these bears while he’s watching, and not even notice that they are second rate doubles? A mother could only hope. He sat, staring at James and Edward being really useful engines as I slipped the imposter bears snuggly by his side. At that moment I was not feeling like a really useful mother. These bears were new and they were intact. You could actually see their bright shiny plastic eyes. The were actually recognizable as bears. They didn’t have that distinct—smell. In short, they just weren’t good enough. They weren’t Cozy.
Lorraine returned from the playground with her head hung low. No Cozy. Quickly I turned to plan B—bribery. I raced to the toy store and bought Julian a sparkly new toy. My futile hope was that the excitement of a new toy would take Julian’s mind completely off his best friend in the world. In Julian’s world Cozy loved him, but maybe this toy would love him more. Maybe he’d forget all about the one thing in his life that brought him comfort and joy. It was a stretch—at best. I was desperately grasping for something to make it better! I felt as if I were drowning. Every ounce of energy that I could muster was spent on finding something to hold on to. I was reaching and grasping for purchase. Please let me find something. Anything.
Time was running out.
Bedtime was drawing near.
As my mind continued to race my husband returned home with my older son. I shared the difficult news with them both. Their faces fell and my older son began to tear up and he looked at me and said, “Cozy?! He’s a part of the family!” The mood in the house was somber indeed. It was time to break the news to Julian.
I gently sat next to Julian who was till paying no attention to the rest of the bears that I had tucked next to him. I calmly stated that Cozy was not with us anymore but—and here my face brightened—we have a brand new toy for you to play with!! Julian did not buy it. He did not care. He was not consoled. He began to cry and scream that he want Cozy. He did not care about other bears. He did not care about other toys. He would not go to bed without Cozy. We all looked at one another with a look of defeat. I thought of the passengers of the Titanic had just before the ship went down. They probably had that same look—look that said, “It’s over”.
We hung out heads low.
We stood there in silence.
Softly, Lorraine offered to have one more walk to the playground and quietly slipped out the door. We knew that the effort was futile. Though we appreciated her determination, we prepared ourselves for what was to come—hands linked, prayers said, we knew this was the end.
Then, a miracle occurred. Lorraine returned through the door with none other than Cozy!! The family was elated! All was not lost! It was a miracle! Oh happy day, our family rejoiced with cheers and tears and smiles and hugs and we were united once again! Thankfully, a good neighbor picked our beloved Cozy up off the sidewalk and put him on the porch of a nearby house, which is where Lorraine found him. Peace settled over our house once again. Hallelujah.
As I remembered this time in my life—a time when were will still a family—I looked at the bunny on the sidewalk with deep sadness. This bunny is someone’s best friend! This family is in crisis! I picked the bunny up and placed it within plain view on the stairs of my porch. I hoped that the inevitably panicked family could spot the bunny clearly as they conducted their search of the neighborhood. Each day though, I see the bunny waiting for its family to come and claim him. Each day the bunny is still on my porch—lonely and unclaimed. The bunny has been rained on, snowed on and sunned on and still no one has claimed him. Day after day the bunny is there. I sit on the porch and I look at the bunny, alone and waiting for someone to claim him and love him and it occurs to me that perhaps this bunny is not meant to be found. I think of my own life, the things I have clung to and the people who I thought were meant to be a part of it forever.
I reflect on the loss of my marriage and the continual growing of my children. As I look at this bunny it occurs to me that the things that we cling to are not ours to own or possess. That perhaps clinging to the thought of keeping them in our life forever keeps us from moving forward. It locks us into a place of desperation and suffering that we have constructed for ourselves by trying so desperately to hold on. There is a point in all of our lives where we feel like this little lost bunny—waiting for our old life to find us once again so that we can have a sense of belonging and stability as we once knew it. But that waiting is the very thing that is stopping us from seeing the path that is right in front of us. The family is not coming.
The bunny is not going back. My marriage will not be repaired and my children will not stop growing and eventually have lives of their own.
The panic we felt during the “Cozy episode” is indicative of the panic we have all felt from time to time in effort to avoid change—to avoid growth. As the bunny waits and waits he becomes more neglected, more battered and more abused. The same holds true for all of us as we stop moving forward in an effort to keep things exactly as they are. The fear of the unknown is so great that we fight to stay where we are, even if it is clearly where we are not meant to be.
Just as the bunny has needed his time in the purgatory of my porch before moving forward into his new life, and just as Cozy needed his time in the closet between the birth of my first son and the birth of Julian, so must we settle into our time of unknowing before we can move forward. The gift of that time is that we come to see that moving forward is essential. We understand that the shape of our future can be as bright and lovely as what we thought our past had been—likely even more so.
It is time to bring the bunny in, to send him through the washing machine and to welcome into his new home where he will be snuggled tightly in bed with Julian—right next to Cozy.