In the grey summer garden I shall find you With day-break and the morning hills behind you. There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings; And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings. Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep: And I shall know the sense of life re-born From dreams into the mystery of morn Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star. ~Siegfried Sassoon “Idyll”
Sixty five years ago today was a difficult day for my mother and me. She remembered it was a particularly hot July 4 with the garden coming on gangbusters and she having quite a time keeping up with summer farm chores. With three weeks to go in her pregnancy, her puffy legs were aching and she wasn’t sleeping well.
She just wanted to be done gestating, with the planned C section scheduled a few days before my due date of August 1.
She and my dad and my sister had waited eight long years for this pregnancy, having given up hope, having already chosen an infant boy to adopt, the papers signed and waiting on the court for the final approval. They were ready to bring him home when she discovered she was pregnant and the adoption agency gave him to another family.
I’ve always wondered where that little boy ended up, his life trajectory suddenly changed by my conception. I feel some accountability.
Every subsequent July 4, my mother would tell me about July 4, 1954 when I was curled upside down inside her impatiently kicking her ribs in my attempts to stretch, hiccuping when she tried to nap, and dozing as she cooked the picnic meal they took to eat while waiting for the local fireworks show to start.
As I grew up, she would remind me when I cringed and covered my ears as fireworks shells boomed overhead, that I leapt startled inside her with each explosion. She wondered if I might jump right out of her, so she held onto her belly tight, trying to calm and reassure me. Perhaps I was justifiably fearful about what chaos was booming on the outside, as I remained inside until the doctor opened Mom up three weeks later.
Now I know I am meant for quieter things, greeting the mystery of each morning with as much calm as I can muster. I still cringe and jump at fireworks and recognize I was blessed to be born to a family who wanted me and waited for me.
May there come a day when every baby knows such a blessing.
Near dusk, near a path, near a brook, we stopped, I in disquiet and dismay for the suffering of someone I loved, the doe in her always incipient alarm.
All that moved was her pivoting ear the reddening sun was shining through transformed to a color I’d only seen in a photo of a new child in a womb.
Nothing else stirred, not a leaf, not the air, but she startled and bolted away from me into the crackling brush.
The part of my pain which sometimes releases me from it fled with her, the rest, in the rake of the late light, stayed. ~C. K. Williams “The Doe”
Oh little one
to have been born this week in June
thirty four years ago~
but lost too soon
gone as swiftly in a clot of red
as a doe disappearing in a thicket:
a memory that makes me question
if you were real,
but you were
and you are
I’ll know you when I see you
and curious about who I am,
you won’t flee,
but stay to find out.
Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night
twenty three years ago, but no labor came as it should.
A week overdue post-Christmas,
you clung to amnion and womb, not yet ready.
Then the wind blew more wicked
and snow flew sideways, landing in piling drifts,
the roads becoming impassable, nearly impossible to traverse.
So your dad and I tried,
worried about being stranded on the farm far from town.
Our little car got stuck in a snowpile in the deep darkness,
our tires spinning, whining against the snow.
A nearby neighbor’s bulldozer dug us out to freedom.
You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.
Creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard,
we arrived to the warm glow of the hospital.
I, not at all.
Morning sun glistened off sculptured snow outside our window,
and your heart had ominously slowed in the night.
We both were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed.
You beat even more slowly, letting loose your tenuous grip on life.
The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble.
The doctor, grim faced, announced
delivery must happen quickly,
taking you now, hoping we were not too late.
I was rolled, numbed, stunned,
clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes,
not wanting to see the bustle around me,
trying not to hear the shouted orders,
the tension in the voices,
the quiet at the moment of opening
when it was unknown what would be found.
And then you cried. A hearty healthy husky cry, a welcomed song.
Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb,
to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room,
your first vocal solo brought applause
from the surrounding audience who admired your pink skin,
your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight,
then blinking open, wondering and wondrous,
emerging saved from the storm within and without.
You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch
before you were whisked away to be checked over thoroughly,
your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery.
I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs.
If no snow storm had come,
you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb,
no longer nurtured by my aging placenta,
cut off from what you needed to stay alive.
There would have been only our soft weeping,
knowing what could have been if we had only known,
if God provided a sign to go for help.
Saved by a storm and dug out from a drift:
I celebrate each time I hear your voice singing.
*my annual “happy birthday” to Lea,
now a college graduate and school teacher*
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1: 41-45 (Song of Elizabeth)
This scene in Luke is remarkable for its portrayal of the interconnected relationship of four individuals, not just two. Here are two cousins who become mothers despite utter impossibility — one too elderly and one virginal — and their unborn sons — one who is harbinger and one who is God.
These unborn babies are not just passively “hidden within” here. They have changed their mothers in profound ways, as all pregnancies do, but especially these pregnancies. As any mother who first experiences the “quickening” of her unborn child can relate, there is an awesome and frightening awareness of a completely dependent but active “other” living inside. She is aware she is no longer alone in her shell and what happens to her, happens to this other life as well.
The moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she and her baby are overwhelmed, filled with the Spirit from Mary’s unborn. They leap, figuratively and literally. Her voice leaps up, louder in her exclamation of welcome; John leaps in the womb in acknowledgement of being in the presence of God Himself.
How can our hearts not leap as well at His Word, at His hope and plan for each of us, at His gift of life from the moment of our conception.
After all, He once was unborn too, completely dependent on His mother, completely alive because of His Father.