The early dawn’s cold left a thick coating of frost on my car windshield this morning. I searched my car for the ice scraper, my thoughts returning to past November mornings when I would drop my three children off at their elementary school before I drove to work. As I dragged my scraper across the surface, I could almost hear the ghosts of their laughter from inside the car. They would sit shoulder to shoulder in the back seat, chanting “Make a heart! Make a heart!” until I traced a heart in the windshield’s frost. When the heart was complete, they would clap their mittened hands and cheer as heartily as if it were for Santa himself.
I like hearts. They are circles, with a few side steps, much like life itself. Like wanderers in the woods, we put one foot in front of the other, thinking we are traveling in a straight line, only to find we have walked this path before, and that the curve of our path indeed took us to our beginnings. Somewhere along the way there were roadblocks, obstacles that diverted our steps to a different path, but the detour is not forever, and soon we are back on the path. When the journey is complete and we look from above, the pattern we traced is a heart. The symbol of love.
I thought a lot about love this week as I spent time with my mother. Like many people, my earliest memories are of her. Those early memories are shadows, hidden too deeply in my heart to clearly define, but the shards of them trigger my senses with amazing acuity. I know her scent, and they way it feels to rest my head at her breast, and how her long arms and strong hands cradled me. I know the softness of her hair and the way her body sways back and forth when she walks, and the thump, thump, thump as she rhythmically pats a baby’s back to work out the burps. I can hear her alto voice and my father ‘s tenor singing “Shine on Harvest Moon” in harmony during car rides, and their laughter rising through the stairwell to my darkened room where I was supposed to be sleeping. I see her silhouette in the wool skirts she sewed to fit her tall frame, and I smell her red lipstick when she kissed me goodbye before she and my father left for a rare evening out.
All these memories are laced with love. Love that is palpable, that has a scent, that bleeds through trials and arguments and obstacles. Love that did not divide among eight children, twenty-something grandchildren, a bunch of great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and the kids whom she taught in junior high school classrooms, but instead multiplied again and again like a geometric progression. It is too abundant to be contained, spilling over and dripping on everything she touches. It grows like her children did, with long arms that reach out to gather others into the fold. It stains the heart crimson, bleeding through tears shed for strangers and aching to change a world that closes doors on the untalented, unpopular and unlovable.
The frost on my windshield is clear, but I see clouds gathering to the north and know that a long cold winter lies ahead. There will be treacherous days and frigid nights, and times when I want to bury my head under the covers and lie alone in the dark. But I will remember the voices of my children and the lessons of my mother. I will make a heart.