Busy lives meet emotional hearts – Clare Deignan

Dear Charlotte, When I was in Year Two, my teacher Mrs Newhard taught my class that we could meet with Jesus in our hearts at anytime, anywhere. My seven-year-old mind imagined meeting Jesus in a deep red room shaped as a heart. 

In my mind, it had heavy curtains and a velvet couch, similar to the inside of Jeannie’s bottle from the ‘I dream of Jeannie’ reruns I had watched on TV. This quiet place within myself, where I could pray to my Father in secret, served me well into adulthood — but if you saw me yesterday, you’d think I had been staring out the window when Mrs Newhard taught that lesson.

I was crying; you were screaming. Inconsolable, I called Mimi. We had just rushed inside because the pitbull-cross next door wouldn’t stop growling, and the only thing between your strawberry blond curls and her snarling teeth was a thin floor-length window screen and six metres of grass. I even swore when I heard that darn dog growling again. I scolded the dog, took you inside and Oh, how you howled. You love dogs even when they are mean! 

I was crying over a phone call from the auto insurance company — there had been a mistake with our statement. Since your father just got a US driving license, we owe $300 more. We live in the one state out of 50 to have this law (don’t we know how to pick them?!) And after surviving last year’s international, interstate and then across town moves, learning to navigate the US healthcare system, enduring the 2016 election and now this… I was exhausted.

After three years in Australia and your father’s contract drying up, we moved back to the US. ‘It will be fine,’ I said. ‘We’ll be closer to family. There’ll be more jobs and it’s getting better,’ I promised. Now I wonder if I should be making any adult decisions at all. Today the US news cycle is focused on Russian intelligence officials and how the mentally ill can now buy guns. I think about dropping you off at school tomorrow and feel like a mix of cement and glass is swirling in my stomach. 

So you were screaming and I was crying and Mimi, forever practical, was still weighing my auto insurance options while trying to reassure me about American life (Mimi was afraid I’d take you to a faraway land, preferably with universal health care and strict gun laws). Frustrated with the land of the free and the brave, I was feeling done, trapped even. 

It was the sort of feeling I had as a child after I had an argument with my mom or dad or one of your aunties. I was mad — in fact, furious — but there was nowhere to go. So I would retreat to my room, or the backyard, or a closet and cry it out until I had forgotten and distracted myself with play, only to then realise I’d have to join everyone for dinner soon. 

Then resigning myself to my lot, I would conjure up a bit of dignity and begin again. (Sometimes I would even apologise.) 

Now this is how I feel most days, re-integrating into American life. But it seems there isn’t anyone to apologise or make up with. No words and no one to make everything better. I know this humongous, crazy country is my home, and Americans like my family — I do love it, but I seriously wonder… is Australia or even Canada looking to adopt a 36-year-old friendly, yet slightly overly emotional woman along with her kind husband and adorable daughter?

Last night after all tears had been dried, and the growling dog forgotten, and I remembered $300 wouldn’t break us, and counted my blessings: ‘One, two, three’; and had a hot bath, and you were sleeping, and a funny TV show finally got me to laugh… I climbed into bed. And only then did I remember dear Mrs Newhard; my red, heart-shaped room; and Jesus. And I cried — and your poor father thought, ‘Oh no, she’s crying again.’ 

But I cried anyway, because I realised I had forgotten the quiet place within me when I needed it most. And in turn, I’d forgotten Jesus. As I cried, Jesus was with me as he always is. And I remembered people who have no homes and no bank accounts. 

I thought of those who are really trapped — hiding from shelling and gunfire in basements, whose children really can’t go to school. I thought of pregnant mothers fleeing to mountains with their toddlers for safety with not one diaper left. And I cried some more. 

But this time I found someone to apologise to — Jesus. I said I was sorry for being selfish and lacking faith, for forgetting those who need my prayers and my support, for forgetting what this life is really about — that not any country, state or town will be perfect and bring me happiness, but that I should be an instrument of his peace. 

And I prayed in my room to my Father in secret and I fell asleep. 

‘Letters to Charlotte’ is a regular column from Clare Deignan.