When my son was born, he wasn’t fully breathing. He did not respond; he was limp and not the right color. I think he was close to a zero on the Apgar, a test that indicates a newborn’s viability. Immediately upon seeing this, our doctor called for him to be transported to a large hospital that had a neonatal intensive care unit. As the doctor and my husband quickly prepared to accompany our son to the hospital via ambulance, the doctor leaned over me and said he was very sorry, it looked like our son’s heart was malfunctioning. I handed my son over with full knowledge he may not be alive when I saw him again. They left, and I got up to go to the hospital with my in-laws who were driving me there as soon as I could leave. At that moment, I made a pact—with whom I don’t quite know—to put all my focus, all my energy, all my emotion to will Ben to live. And this meant, to me, not to show any emotion, not shed one tear, not connect with anyone: just pure focus. I pretty much did this for two days. He was touch and go, but Ben got better and had no serious issues. Within a week, he came home.
In hindsight, I understand that although intense concentration is greatly beneficial in some circumstances, there was no need for it in this instance and, in fact, there were all sorts of downfalls in my approach. Being committed to my isolated focus was a way for me to separate away from others, not let my emotions be seen or felt by anyone (especially myself), and not be fully present. It also kept me from connecting with others who cared deeply for me. I remained unaware of how kind everyone was to me, and that I remained ignorant to how much I was not alone. In fact, I was actively working to isolate myself. Sadly, I was numb to the other parents around us who were going through very similar circumstances. In essence, I was only feeling a small portion of my experience.
In these two days, there was a lot of pain and fear. But also, there was the joy of a new life and the love of family and friends. By suppressing my emotions, I cut out all of it. I do remember those random acts of kindness now.
What I learned then is that all of life is a gift: the birth of a child, the fear and actual loss of a loved one, the unknown of what will happen next, the amazing strength of the kindness of strangers, the pain of not being able to protect a child—and it is all wrapped up together. We cannot choose to be present only for the “good” stuff. We either feel, or we do not. We cannot numb ourselves from hurt without also numbing ourselves from joy. Love comes with loss; they are inseparable.
And as we are at another joyous holiday season, I often think of those who are not realizing so much joy right how. I know that there are many out there, like me, who are entwined in much loss and hurt—present, past or imagined—and they’re trying to be invisible; not present. Perhaps, in the midst of our busy-ness of the season, we can show extra kindness, especially to those who may not, cannot, or will not reach out. Those who may need the most right now may also be the least able or willing to ask or accept it. But it shouldn’t deter us from giving it. Some of it will get through.
And for each of us, this is an extraordinarily perfect time to reflect that we cannot fully feel and experience our lives without being willing to feel it all, accept it all, and not resent that circumstances, people, and life bring both what we perceive as good and also bad. Living fully is accepting, without resentment, all of the bits of our lives, with grace and gratitude that we have been given so much.
“To witness the birth of a child is our best opportunity to experience the meaning of the word miracle.” —Paul Carvel