I awoke this morning to a show on NPR interviewing people on how they have dealt with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. I awoke to an interview of an obstetrician, a real matter-of-fact kind of woman with crying baby sounds in the background. I awoke to her saying, "No matter how many times I help a child come into this world, it is still an absolute miracle."
We were given this assignment to write of fond Christmas memories, something meaningful, something funny or thoughtful. I had a perfect story -- not funny, not sad, just a Christmas memory. It was one of those days I was certain I could never forget. And it is not that I have forgotten anything, but it was almost three years ago now, and the details have a tendency to get a little fuzzy. My brain has a way of holding on only to things it really wants to. I dug out my old journal, dog-eared and full of photos and scraps of paper, dirty at the edges, but a beautiful journal all the same. I looked up Christmas 1998 and was astounded to find not only that date missing but an entire three weeks. Three whole weeks absolutely unrecorded -- hardly a word even to convey that they had existed at all. And when I finally did write, there was only one fragment to record this amazing event in my life: "...and then there was the arrival of Juliet's baby." The long hours of labor, the journey of that baby into this world boiled down to one phrase that seemed more to shrug it off than to praise it.
But you see, that's not the way I remember it.
I know I was having a rough time, having just graduated from college confused and depressed, in a going-nowhere kind of relationship -- all the usual things that leave people staring out windows and mentally beating themselves up. There was also the fact of Christmas itself. I have never been a fan of Christmas, certainly not of the gifts, the shopping, the fighting -- definitely not of the stress it entails. So yes, these could all be reasons as to why I did not record these dates in my journal. But when it comes down to it, I think it has more to do with a latent fear that I would not be able to record such an event without the saccharine sentimentality it is so laden with naturally.
Yes, there was the long trip in the Greyhound bus reading nothing but birthing books, studying up so I could help coach my sister. There was the transition of rain to snow, mountains to fields stretching out further than perhaps my mind could handle. There was the waiting. Yes, the waiting. The baby was due Christmas Day, but what baby is born on its due date? And so we waited and we talked and we waited. Long expanses of time, with a mind drifting this way and that, not writing, but making an effort to (I wrote this before those three weeks) "read more because these journal entries are becoming mirror images of themselves."
And then, yes, there was the hospital: 25 long hours of labor for my poor sister. My brother-in-law and I took turns for 12 hours rubbing her back in between contractions before she decided to get the epidural. Then finally Matt and I could sleep, and I did for perhaps an hour and a half on the floor of the hospital waiting room.
And there was the snow. I woke up to Christmas morning, although it had been Christmas morning for some time now, I woke up to snow. Although it had been snowing for some time now, I woke up to a completely white landscape out the window of the hospital. I stood there staring out the window, the huge flakes tumbling down off the glass, piling up on cars and branches, and for the first time in years, I was happy it was Christmas Day. My little sister and some family gathered around a table and played Scrabble while a TV close by murmured, while the halls of the hospital murmured, while Juliet napped and eased her way through the now-dulled contractions.
At 4:20 pm, Christmas Day, I found myself holding one of my sister's legs up as the baby came out. I watched it as it had just crowned, its little tuft of black hair sticking out. And I realized, this is Christmas, this is the real thing. That baby came out. My body so tired, muscles so sore, helplessly I began to shake and sob.
These are all just words.
The memory is in my gut: a feeling of the greater world in my chest, of finally making that connection to what it is to be human, of watching that baby transform from a giant lump in my sister's belly to a small child...
At the risk of sounding cliched, there is something about the birth of a child, something about the rawness seen only in the delivery room that plugs us all back in. The obstetrician on NPR this morning spoke of the experience of birth helping her to get through the sheer horror of the past couple of months. For me, I suppose it was the same: an event wordless and miraculous that helped to get me through.
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One of the biggest challenges of going backpacking is knowing what food to bring. The first time I went backpacking, those expensive bags of dehydrated meals you buy at your local outdoor supply store seemed like the obvious solution. We
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
-- Henry David Thorea