The Present

On Tuesday, Mel at Stirrup Queens asked a question as part of a post: if someone could tell you the high and low points of your life – which you could not change – would you want to know? Throughout my adult life I’ve wondered that a few times. About five years ago or so, however, starting when Arthur lost his job while I was finishing nursing school and then through subsequent infertility/loss, I started pondering the question more and more frequently. Most of the time I leaned towards wanting to know.

It’s been a strange year. I spent more time in a hospital gown than any other outfit. The living room is littered with stacking cups, burp rags, and stuffed animals. The As.ics Kay.anos my brother got me started on as a running shoe are kicked underneath the coat rack, the shoes and clutter tangible evidence of the impossible somehow manifested in this year. My daughter survived against all possible odds. My brother did not despite everything in his favor.

There is E, whose very name makes reference to the total surprise of her living. She’s named from a part of The Lord of the Rings, at first because the spot where her namesake grows in Middle Earth was the most peaceful place I could imagine her as we thought she would die. Later, we kept that name, never before on our list, instead of changing to one of the two we’d originally picked because of a moment in the final book where one of the characters asks if there was ever any hope and is answered: “There was never much hope…Just a fool’s hope, as I have been told.”

That’s all we had for her, a fool’s hope through the slow march of days that brightened into viability. If I had known she would live, she would not be E.

I remember when my parents, my brother and his long-time girlfriend, the woman we know he would have married if he had lived, came to see E in the hospital six days after she was born. My brother and his girlfriend brought window clings to decorate the glass doors of E’s NICU room and the incubator, the flowers and frogs and turtles making E’s room a home during her long stay. I brought my brother back and he stared at the baby in the plastic box. “Wow,” he said gently. It was my parent’s anniversary and my mother’s birthday and E’s birth all in the same month, so we went out to eat afterwards. It is a good memory, a memory made all the more precious by the fact that it was one of the last.

If I had known that in October my brother would inexplicably pick up a revolver and leave us, I would have missed it along with countless other moments such as his love of aviator sunglasses or the fact that as much as he sometimes downplayed his enormous affection for the cats he and his girlfriend had, he always had new cat pictures on his phone and would do just about anything for them. I would have missed the opportunities to love and share, because there is no doubt in my mind that if I had known, I would have subtly distanced myself in some sort of misguided effort to lessen the pain.

And he was worth all of it.

I don’t say that lightly. I don’t say that as an “of course”, feel-good moment, something I’m supposed to say. There are days – and will continue to be days – where the ache is so strong the pain feels physical. There are days I simply wish it didn’t hurt so, so badly, days of getting together with my in-laws and seeing their family wholeness that throws the awful brokenness I’m experiencing into sharp relief. It is recognizing the truth in the cliché about being lonely in a room full of people. It is not knowing if or when or how that sadness will fade into something more bittersweet and wistful, more complicated but more bearable.

As 2016 sweeps in, it’s impossible not to wonder what the year has in store. After living this year, I don’t think I truly want to know. Instead, Arthur comes home from work early today. We’ll play with E and nurse the colds all three of us came down with on Sunday. We’ll plan to use the new cheese board for supper and watch The Holiday. We’ll enjoy each other’s company and most likely have one of those nice, prosaic evenings that aren’t distinct memories but rather meld together to form something strong and warm and loving. I’m content to live in this moment rather than looking too far forward.

Happy New Year to all.

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12 thoughts on “The Present

  1. Oh wow… this post. You’ve changed the way I feel about that question with your words. It’s so true: there are things I would miss out on if I knew how they would turn out because I would distance myself.

    This line made me cry: “My daughter survived against all possible odds. My brother did not despite everything in his favor.” And I love that her name comes from LOTR.

  2. I weep for reading this. Weep because those images of those beautiful moments came even though loss was so close to follow. You’re right about the distance we give when we are steeling ourselves for pain. And yet the steeling robs us of some potentially amazing moments. Opportunities we never would have if we didn’t open ourselves up.

    Your brother sounds like an amazing individual. I’m so sorry that he is no longer here with you. The memories you have of him are beautiful and ones the I hope E treasures hearing about as she grows. Continuing to think of you and your family, sending love and light the whole way.

  3. Happy new year to you. This post is really thoughtful, it made me question myself. But I wouldn’t change anything because it made me who I am now. And people have it worse than myself. Cherish the moments with you little girl, xxx

  4. It’s such an interesting question to ponder, and I love how you’ve explored your thoughts on knowing about events in advance and how that might change things. This year has been such a frenzy of highs and lows for you, with so many events to think about in this context. We were just having that sort of conversation in a different way, where Bryce was asking if we thought things would have turned out differently if we’d made different decisions along our infertility journey. I like the same idea as you, to live in the present, because thinking on how things could have been different or might have turned out given x, y, and z doesn’t change where you are right now, for better or for worse. I am happy for your triumphs and so sad for your losses over this past year, and I am hoping for a better 2016, or maybe just a kinder year.
    (PS: I love “The Holiday,” by the way, and also that E’s name comes from Lord of the Rings.)

    • Thanks – I so hear you about the times thinking about how things might have turned out differently. Here’s to both of us working to live in that present and I hope 2016 is kind to you as well!

  5. I’m so very glad E survived, and so very sorry your brother did not (for you, for E, for everyone who loved him, and for who he might have become). Wishing you much peace, strength, and healing this coming year.

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