It Needn’t Have Been So…

You are alive.
It needn’t have been so.
It wasn’t so once, and will not be forever.
But it is so now.

And what is it like:
to be alive in this one place of all places anywhere where life is?
Live a day of it and see.
Take any day and LIVE IT.
Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter.

It is your birthday and there are many presents to open. 
The world is to be opened.
It is the first day because it has never been before
and the last day because it will never be again.

~Frederick Buechner from The Alphabet of Grace

When I was very young, I would trace my finger over the long scar that curved along the front of my mother’s neck and ask her what happened. She would tell me her thyroid gland had been overworking so she had to have it removed before I was born. That’s all she had to say about that and I never thought to ask more. Somehow I knew, just as my knowing my father would not talk about his experience as a Marine in WWII, my mother was hiding more than her big scar under high collars or a pearl necklace.

Hers was a deeper scar I couldn’t see or touch.

However, my older sister – about five at the time – remembers my mother’s illness. Mom was a little over thirty when her hands began to tremble, her pulse raced and she was irritable with trouble sleeping. My parents were hoping for a second child, but unable to get pregnant. Once her doctor diagnosed thyrotoxicosis , Mom had the option to try a new medication that had been recently developed – propylthiouracil – meant to suppress the function of overactive thyroid glands.

It didn’t work for her and she felt worse. It caused more side effects and my mother’s symptoms grew so severe, she was unable to leave her bedroom due to severe anxiety and paranoia made worse by insomnia. My paternal grandmother came to help since my father needed to continue to work to support the family but there was little that could be done other than sedation to ease my mother’s symptoms. My sister recalls not seeing Mom for days, unnerved by the wailing she heard from the bedroom. From her description, I now wonder if Mom was experiencing the beginning of thyroid “storm” (extremely high thyroid levels) which is potentially life-threatening with severe physical and emotional side effects.

After Mom was hospitalized and her entire thyroid was removed, she was placed on thyroid hormone supplements to take daily for the rest of her life. It took months for her to recover and feel somewhat normal again. Her eventual hormonal stability resolved her infertility as well as most of her other symptoms. She remained chronically anxious and had heart palpitations and insomnia the rest of her life, like a residual stain on her sense of well-being, although she lived another 55 years. The trauma of how her illness affected my dad and sister was never fully resolved. They all suffered. I can understand why those months remained as hidden as my mom’s surgical scar.

I was born about two years later – the second baby they never expected could happen. My brother was born 20 months after me.

From my family’s suffering came the solace of new life.

So I nearly wasn’t.

I’m reminded on each birthday:
I needn’t have been here yet by the grace of God I am.
I need to BE ALIVE and LIVE THIS DAY because it will never be again.

This is a truth for us all to cling to.

Each day is a gift to be opened and savored.
Each day a first day, a last day, a great day – a birthday of amazing grace.

A new book from Barnstorming is available to order here:

4 thoughts on “It Needn’t Have Been So…

  1. Another morning grateful for God’s mercies, awash in his grace. Your posts calling to mind the breadth and length and height and depth of such.
    I’m but one of a legion at least, placed by his providence in the circle beneficiaries
    blessed by your being so Emily.
    Thank you for your candid cue to embrace this day, in this time, in this place.
    And thank you for introducing me to
    Frederick Buechner!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was ordained. As were the gifts that have graced your life. You HAD to be here because you had a job to do on His behalf….

    Not sure if this is germane to your plaintive post today, dear Emily. But it is lingering in my mind.
    You may have heard it before:
    From one of Fr. Richard Rohr’s postings years ago:

    A little boy was pacing back and forth before his front door. He was anxiously awaiting
    his parents’ return from the maternity hospital with something wonderful — his brand new
    just=born baby sister. Then the door opened and all three stood before him. He peeked through
    the pink blanket and asked if he could talk with his little sister. His mother said, ‘yes,’ as soon as we
    settle her in her bassinet you can go in and say hello. After she was settled in her new bed,
    his parents left the room, leaving the door ajar (as they watched and listened unseen from outside
    the room). The new ‘brother’ tiptoed up to the bassinet, leaned over, and whispered to his new baby sister, “Can you tell me what it is like where you just came from; I’m beginning to forget..”
    I cannot help but wonder if,,in the depths of our souls, we still retain a snippet of our memory before
    it came a reality?

    Liked by 1 person

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