On October 17, my son, Simon, was born. As he entered the world, his heart rate dropped. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. That first image of my son is burned into me: the stark whiteness of the cord set against his blueing skin, cinched tight to his neck, nested just beneath his ear. The whole universe revolved around that one point: the inch of tissue where life and suffering were one. I spoke softly, to myself and my wife, though I wasn’t sure it was true: “He’s okay. He’s okay.” Tears formed in my eyes. That’s all I could do as he came into the world. I could do nothing else.
That cord across Simon’s neck was his burden, unwillingly given to him. He was made to bear it though he did not ask for it. And I, his father and protector, stood by the wayside, frozen, pleading silently for the little boy. My heart rate rose as his dropped. My hands grasped as his were weak. I spoke when he was choked for a voice.
And I could not bring myself to look anywhere else but at my son and his suffering.
And then the burden was taken from him: in several swift movements, the doctor took two clamps and secured them on that small span of tissue, the scissors slid up near his neck, closed down around the whiteness of the cord and severed it. And Simon was granted new life. He breathed, he cried. And today, he is a beautiful, healthy little boy. And I deeply and whole heartedly thank the doctor and nurses for that. We held him close, nestled him away with us, spoke to him, smiled at him. And he was ok. His burden was gone—lifted from him.
The day after Simon was born, I went to get coffee in the cafe downstairs. Through the windows, I saw a statue: a winged angel holding a small baby. I walked out of the doors and into the cool morning. The sky was a pale grey. New parents busied themselves latching baby seats into cars, smiling and laughing and worrying with pride.
I turned from the lot and walked through the small prayer garden, tucked away around the corner: a garden devoted to lost children. Water trickled down a brickscaped half-wall. The wall was covered with small copper plates with the names of children who suffered and died. A litany of babies who bore immense suffering that was never taken from them. I felt the water and tears trickle behind those name-plates, animating the memories of children who were no longer here. Then I returned upstairs to my baby boy and my beautiful wife, trying to hide the redness of my face.
And as he slept in the bassinet, I understood what miracle my son has come through—what beauty I hold in my arms. His burden was lifted, and I could do nothing but stand in rapt awe that he was, is, here. I cried, I wondered and questioned and attempted to form meaning out of what has been given to me and my wife: the ambivalence of pain, suffering, happiness, life.
And as I cried, I found myself wondering something else at the same time: What if the burden was never lifted? What if the suffering lasted forever?
I think perhaps I found that answer in that garden. The answer, maybe, is the same: We cry, we stand in rapt awe, we wonder and question and attempt to form meaning out of what we are given.
Both life and death are worthy of our deepest passion, both worthy of our greatest reverence, both worthy of being remembered by we, the living.
For more on the Angel Garden at Virtua Voorhees, or to give, see here.