A Long WalkWednesday, October 05, 2011
Next month is November.
I have been dreading November. All Saints Day is on November first.
On All Saint’s Day, the pastor/priest reads the names of all of the dead who congregation members want to remember. A bell tolls for each one. The church is silent, other than the litany of names, and that bell tolling. Even the babies seem to know that something solemn is happening and that they are not to make too much noise. I can’t express the simplicity of this act, and the exquisite beauty of this reading.
Last year, on All Saints Day, I sat in church listening to them reading the names and I thought to myself, next year, my Bea’s name will be read. Next year she will be part of that parade of saints sitting silently in the wings of the church, watching us in our shared grief. It was a very difficult service to get through. I cried.
That is what I’d like to write about tonight. I would like to write about knowing that as soon as she was born, she would die. About being called to do something alien. To live with death flooding me.
I wanted to be pregnant forever. It seemed that as long as she was in there and safe, the bad thing that doctors were saying would not come to fruition. I would have happily bounced through life, big belly holding my unborn daughter as she grew old along with me.
I wanted to believe that they were wrong, and a stubborn part of me did believe that they were wrong. That she would live, and we would laugh and it would be one of those “the doctor said” stories that people tell.
I willed her problems to disappear. I really believed that if I wanted it enough, she would live. I walked in my shoes, hoping that what was decided would eventually become something different.
I considered some awful remedies- a friend of mine offered a natural therapy to “cleanse my aura”, in hopes that this would cure Bea’s ills. I thought about it, but declined, saying that it didn’t agree with my religious convictions.
I considered some more normal remedies- At one point I poured an entire bottle of Holy Water from Lourdes, France, on my belly in the seclusion of my room, fervently praying for some miracle to take place. This may seem relatively benign, but I am not Catholic. I am Lutheran, and Lutherans don’t believe in things like Holy Water and religious medals. I still hoped that the stories were true, deep down inside.
My daughter was alive, at that moment in church, and we were preparing for her death. While other people wish for a healthy baby, our fervent hope was a disabled baby. I just wanted her to breathe.
I listened to the bell toll, and was brought to reality that by the time all Saints Day rolled around again, my daughter would be gone.
My pregnant belly, round with life- with movement and a child who I had already named, was beautiful. It was the closest I would ever get to caring for her while she lived.
I have been thinking lately, of Abraham and Isaac, from the Bible.
I am contemplating the long walk that Abraham took with his son, planning to sacrifice him.
The moments during the walk when he must have silently pled with God to spare his beloved son- the son upon whom so many promises rested. Upon whom so many plans had been made. I wonder what he was thinking about as he bound his son up, obeying the will of a God who asked this horrific thing from him. This God who wanted his child.
I wonder if he thought it wasn’t fair.
I wonder if he questioned why he had been the one who was chosen to carry this particular burden.
It doesn’t say anything about Abraham’s feelings. But I can imagine them.
All the Bible tells us is that when God called to Abraham, he answered only “here I am.”
My pregnancy was like that long walk.
It took them three days to get to where they were going. Abraham likely watched his son surreptitiously. He memorized the line of his nose, the curve of his smile. He may have done this while guarding his heart against the eventual brokenness that he knew was coming. Against the loss he was looking forward to.
“Don’t allow yourself to love too much, this child that you have been given- because he belongs to Me.”
I could almost hear the words in my ear. I can imagine this feeling of danger. This feeling of lack of control.
All Saints Day was the first time that I acknowledged Him saying- “give her to Me, she is Mine.” It was my first gentle brush with the death that was coming. It was the place where I began the trek up the side of the mountain. That day was the first day where her death became a tangible item that I could hold tight to. I had to dig deep to think that the appropriate response is “be it done unto me according to thy will.”
Because that’s not the response I wanted to give.
Even now, I want her back. I fully expect to wake up one morning and she will be here in my house. Even now, 10 months after the fact, I have difficulty with accepting my loss as a loss- it seems unreal, temporary.
I will never know what relief Abraham walked down the mountain with. I will never know the relief of knowing that my child has been spared a death sentence, that she will live to see another day. She will always be some sad story told in a quiet whisper.
But while I carried her, I memorized the line of her nose, and the curve of her smile.
And when I was called, I answered “here I am.”
This year, I look forward to hearing the sound of her name falling from the quietness. I look forward to acknowledging her place in the kingdom of a God who called to me-“give her to Me. She is mine.”