By Jessica Galán
I find him swaddled in white blankets, his hospital bed pushed against a wall in a narrow stretch of hallway. My cinnamon-skinned father is almost 70. His hair sea-salt white; mustache peppered grey.
It’s his penchant for sweets that lands him in this over-crowded emergency room. He’s a stubborn diabetic refusing to make medicine a daily ritual. He sneaks off to the corner bodega for powdered donuts and gulps of orange juice. Falling into a diabetic coma doesn’t faze him.
A nurse rouses him for his meds. He offers me a sheepish grin when he realizes I’m there. “Nurse, this is my long-lost daughter.”
At three, my parents divorced, and it took years for my father and I to reconnect.
“You feeling okay?” I ask.
“Better now,” he replies, but I sense an undertone of false bravado.
Maybe, when my father dreams, he becomes the brawny man he used to be, living a life of carousing in his native Puerto Rico, eating and drinking whatever he pleases.
I stand guard until he dozes off. After, I make my way through New York City’s Murray Hill neighborhood. The East River wind chills me to the bone but awakens my hunger.
I slip into a Vietnamese take-out joint for an oversized bowl of piping hot soup, slurp up rice noodles mixed with cilantro and slivers of red onion. Although filled, my longing remains.
Come winter, life feels scarce, longings amplified. So, I tend small fires and imbibe cups of warmth, but longing howls inside of me nonetheless.
Advent becomes my saving grace, the catalyst for holiday festivities. With clenched fists, I offer Sunday morning praise, and when I open my hands I find the traces of half-moon nail marks. Maybe oneness with God is how I cope with the nudge of longing.
But even so, if I’m honest, it’s also when the uptick of sadness hovers over me. I admit to having to fight for meaning in a season filled with mirth and lights and parties.
I escape to the bathroom for long hot showers to privately sob for my father’s failing health. It’s where I can release what taints my heart from a heaving and sighing world.
When my father whispers that he’s tired, when he struggles to breathe, could it be he’s longing to shed his failing flesh?
Perhaps what my father needs, what I need, are one in the same—we want the visceral problem of human longing solved.
And yet the irony of it all is this—human longing isn’t fully satisfied until we shed our human cloaks.
“Meanwhile we groan,” II Corinthians 5:2 states, “longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling.” We’re longing to shed our weary, stretched out skin for an eternal cloak.
Where does longing find you?
Maybe your longing is held at bay by the sweet and sour breath of your toddler’s morning kiss, fulfilled in a momentary burst of love.
Maybe longing is in the healing—it’s the raw and scratchy feeling which catches in your throat when you’ve mended a family rift.
Maybe longing feels desperate right now. You hang on for dear life upon hearing news of senseless violence and terror.
Longing is precisely why God donned human skin—the reason he cut through space and time. It’s why he broke his mother’s flesh and became the ancient babe incarnate.
I imagine Mary pressing her nose against his scalp, quelling her own longing…if for a moment.
Perhaps Mary’s longing was satisfied when she realized her son’s had the power to call far-away kings.
Fathers. Mothers. Sons and daughters. All of humanity longs.
I suppose longing is our inner-child awaiting eternal Christmas—an infinite satisfaction no finite heart can comprehend.
Not yet at least.
Jessica spends her days teaching history and her-story to amazing high school students from diverse backgrounds in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Jessica is a member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild. She’s wife to a super-creative man and the proud mother of three resilient young women. She can’t start her day without steaming Spanish coffee and breaks out into sporadic salsa dancing when no one’s watching. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash