A college professor made our freshman Music Appreciation class squirm by requiring us to define what made a composition "good." Whether we liked it or not, he insisted, was irrelevant. How did it make us feel? And why? These answers, he said, might help us determine whether the music was good.
I've rolled this discussion around for years. As a bookish English major, I've read countless books. As best I can say, I've rested on my working definition of what makes a work "good."
1. It must be written with understanding and mastery of the craft; there must be beauty in it.
2. It must make me think and feel.
Lately I'm pondering the concept of "goodness." What does one mean, I wonder, when she asks whether Deacon is a "good" baby? If it would mean he doesn't cry and sleeps through the night, then he is decidedly not "good." But I'm not comfortable declaring my precious son "bad." These days my daughters are also, by these standards, far from "good." We are fighting together daily to learn and embody grace and love and what it means to be a family as the circumstances change. Sometimes it is hard. But when I kneel-- weary-- at their bedsides, tuck their spindly limbs back in and kiss their foreheads, I'll be damned if they're not among the most perfect things I've ever seen.
It can be so easy, when the days are long and the to-do list is longer, when the hands are small and the feet are clumsy, when the personalities are emerging and the temperaments asserting themselves, to think there is some other time-- before or to come-- when the days will be perfect. But to fall into this thinking is ungrateful at best and blasphemous at worst. And on "bad" days I am a heretic of the most unsavory sort. When these feelings prevail, overcoming what I know, I suggest that, actually, there is variation and shifting shadow in the giver of these gifts. This thinking suggests that my thankfulness and the very worth of the gifts themselves hinge on their behavior on a given day, at a given moment. Such thoughts suggest, then, that the gifts-- my blessed children-- are worthy of my affection as a condition and not a rule.
Certainly they don't treat me that way, despite the unloveliness that fatigue and the mundane have wrought lately. Certainly the Father of Lights about whom I teach my children daily would never treat His children in that manner. We are loved, valued and cherished, regardless of our moods, words accomplishments, or behavior, simply because we are.
May we love our children like this. May they never wonder whether our love wavers or hinges on their actions. May we model this always, especially when it is hard. May we see the goodness of the moments and the gifts, even when we don't enjoy it all.
I eventually did read The Color Purple again, and it's still not my favorite book. But I've never forgotten the passage from which is takes its name: "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it." Our garden beds are full of weeds our neighbors seem eager for us to address. My daily mood is influenced more than it should be by circumstance. My children are reeling from change. They need time and space to adjust; they need to be held tightly even as they rage. They need to rest in the knowledge that they are loved, regardless of whether it is "deserved."
We are reminded each night, as we check on every sleeping child and fall into bed together, that it's
all-- every single bit of it-- good.