You. What a strange word that is. She thought, I have never laid eyes on you. I am waiting for you. The old man prays for you. He almost can’t believe he has you to pray for. Both of us think about you the whole day long. If I die bearing you, or if you die when you are born, I will still be thinking, Who are you? and there will be only one answer out of all the people in the world, all the people there have ever been or will ever be. If we find each other in heaven, we’ll say, So there you are! We’d be perfect in heaven, no regrets, no grudges, nothing to make you turn a cold eye on me the way you might do someday when you’re old enough to really see me. When I tell you that that knife is the only thing I have to leave you. Then I’d be all hard and proud, like it didn’t even matter what you thought. What else can a person do? And it would be the only thing that mattered, because no one else could say “you” and mean the same thing by it. But there would be years when the child would just want to sit on her lap. He’d favor her over anybody. He’d be crying and she’d pick him up, and then it would take him a minute to be done crying, but that would be all that was left of it, because she had her arms around him. Comfort. That’s strange, too. When she used to lie there almost asleep, with her cheek on the old man’s sweater, the night all around her chirping and whispering, the comfort of it was a thing she’d have promised herself the whole day long.
Fear and comfort could be the same thing. It was strange, when she thought of it. The wind always somewhere, trifling with the leaves, troubling the firelight. And that smell of damp earth and bruised grass, a lonely, yearning sort of smell that meant, Why don't you come back, you will come back, you know you will. And then the stars, and Mellie probably awake, lying there thinking about them.
She had a dream sometimes that she was running along a road and there was Doll ahead of her, waiting for her, and she just ran into her arms, and she thought, It's over now, I'm not lost anymore, and the dream had all the sweetness of a mild day in summer. If you could smell in dreams, it would be the smell of hay on the softest breeze and sunlight warming the fields. She thought that was going to be waiting for her, that life, and she never even stopped to wonder about herself for thinking that way. I been crazy for a long time, she said.
I have worried that you might think I did not take your question as seriously as I should have. I realize I have always believed there is a great Providence that, so to speak, waits ahead of us. A father holds out his hands to a child who is learning to walk, and he comforts the child with words and draws it toward him, but he lets the child feel the risk it is taking, and lets it choose its own courage and the certainty of love and comfort when he reaches his father over—I was going to say choose it over safety, but there is no safety. And there is no choice, either, because it is in the nature of the child to walk. As it is to want the attention and encouragement of the father. And the promise of comfort. Which it is in the nature of the father to give. I feel it would be presumptuous of me to describe the ways of God. Those that are all we know of Him, when there is so much we don’t know. Though we are told to call Him Father. And I know it would be presumptuous to speak as if the suffering that people feel as they pass through the world were not grave enough to make your question much more powerful than any answer I could offer. My faith tells me that God shared poverty, suffering, and death with human beings, which can only mean that such things are full of dignity and meaning, even though to believe this makes a great demand on one’s faith, and to act as if this were true in any way we understand is to be ridiculous. It is ridiculous also to act as if it were not absolutely and essentially true all the same. Even though we are to do everything we can to put an end to poverty and suffering.