There are these occasional moments in life that are simply and absolutely too surreal to ever just forget. They are the moments that are inscribed onto the parchment of our memories in permanent ink in the instant that they happen. You’ll never lose them, at least not normally, and you know that. Some of them are events that were momentous or tragic, and unexpected…you know, the ones to which you can immediately answer the question, “where were you when (fill in the blank)?” Others are things that you knew were coming, and that you were anticipating, but that you had no clue how they would cause your entire life to go sideways. As much as you sort of knew that you would never be able to wrap your brain around the rest of your life afterward, you just didn’t know to what extent that you wouldn’t be able to do so, or how little, in that instant, you would care that you couldn’t.
When Karen called me at my day job nine months ago as she was leaving her doctor’s office and told me we were expecting, something happened that rarely happens with me. I was speechless. I was, in fact, stupid for several minutes, unable to do basic tasks like talk on the phone with any sort of proficiency. I remember driving home that afternoon, and thinking that life literally looked different to me. As strange as it sounds, the vehicles in traffic around me looked differently, the people around me as well. And here any skills I have as a writer fail me, because I couldn’t describe how they looked different, only that they did.
Last Wednesday, after a long and arduous labor, I was sitting at Karen’s side, able only to see her face among all of the accoutrements of the operating room as a C-section was performed to deliver our little girl. I’ve jokingly told some friends since that night that, up until then, our daughter had sort of existed only in theory in my mind. That is, all the business and painstaking care of preparing for her arrival had busied our schedules, brought our friends rallying, and taxed our bank account, but, not only have I never had a child before, but neither have I spent any significant time around them in my life. Not only did I not know what to expect, but I didn’t even a referent for what this could be like, outside of the stories of others.
The cry came out of the blue that night, piercing the room while yet being melodious, and I saw my tiny little girl for the first time. I’ve experienced my share of moments in which I felt the Divine reach into my daily life, and certainly that was one of them. I was exhausted, with no more than three hours of sleep out of the last twenty four, and had honestly become emotionally flattened until that moment. Then, all at once, all of those months spent talking to my Karen’s stomach paid off, because my daughter knew my voice! Due to some complications, I went with our daughter for her physical, and stayed with her for the nearly three hours of recovery until Karen could join us. In that period of time, she came to trust my voice, to calm when she heard my voice, to focus her wide and inquisitive eyes on her daddy, to orient immediately to the sound of my voice. Since then, when no one else can console her, I can. As overwhelmed and maddening and stressful as the last few days have been, as poorly as I have coped with the chaos that has descended on the household despite my best attempts to curtail it, the protective instinct that I have for my daughter is at times overwhelming. I have had, and continue to have, moments in which I’m irrevocably convinced of my own ineptitude, as well as the knowledge that I cannot possibly continue this for another day. Yet, I know her face, I can discern her cries, I let her grasp my finger in her tiny hand, and I get to know her better daily.
For the rest of my life, I will be getting to know her. She isn’t just a theory anymore.
I don’t think I have to describe a faith metaphor about this…I think you can get there from here. I just know that while I knew my life would never be the same upon returning from the hospital as it had been when I left for it, I didn’t have any way of predicting that it would be this different. And, if I thought that everything looked different on the day I found out, that pales compared to the way things look today in a such an extreme as to be nonsensical.
I have a daughter. I’m a father. I’m not just married now, but I have a family of my own. There’s so much that goes with that, that I can’t even begin to unpack it yet. And I’m not sure that I ever will.
And, somehow, I’m beginning to be okay with that.