I’m a lifelong skeptic, so I have great difficulty explaining why, on a fairly consistent basis, I stumble upon things in my reading life that address, in an uncanny way, something I’m experiencing right at that very moment.
For instance, last year, when my father-in-law had a handful of long stints in the hospital, and I was on my own with the girls one night because it looked like he might be facing his final hours, Lily randomly chose (for her reading practice) this Shel Silverstein poem from the collection, “Falling Up”:
You know the stork brings babies,
But did you also know
He comes and gets the older folks
When it’s their time to go?
Zooms right down and scoops them up,
Then flaps back out the door
And flies them to the factory where
They all were made before.
And there their skin is tightened up,
Their muscles all are toned,
Their wrinkles all are ironed out,
They’re given brand-new bones.
Ol’ bent backs are straightened up,
New teeth are added, too,
Tired hearts are all repaired
And made to work like new.
Their memories are all removed
And they’re shrunk down, and then
The stork flies them back down to earth
As newborn babes again.
I’ll confess, I struggled mightily to keep myself from sobbing as Lily read these words aloud. My father-in-law had long been suffering from a rare form of skin cancer, so these images of renewal and release and rebirth worked like a salve on an awful night.
And last night, after dinner (and a couple of games of the kids’ version of Apples to Apples), Lily and Neve made tunnels out of the couch cushions and pillows and asked me to read from the book Joe recently started with them: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
You can see where this is going.
The chapter where Joe had left off reading, “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill,” tells what happens when the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his housemaid; as she tries to carry out his wishes, she takes a swig from a bottle marked “DRINK ME” and grows so big that Rabbit’s house can barely contain her.
Alice, in this moment, thinks to herself, “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me!”
You and me both, Alice.
For although I may not have bumped into you on my way down the rabbit-hole, we’re both clearly taking up semi-permanent residency in Wonderland, with all the delights and horrors contained therein.
Indeed, that’s what this strange, surreal post-layoff time ultimately boils down to. There’s sheer terror and worry underlying each day; but there’s also a palpable spark of hope for new adventures, too. You feel more alive than you do before, but at the expense of – well, being able to take care of expenses.
Unlike the days and years that came before, you just have absolutely no idea what’s coming up ahead (looking at you, trippy hookah-smoking caterpillar).
And depending on your mood on a given day, that notion will make you either jump up out of bed or burrow ever deeper under the down comforter.