Please be patient with me. Last week I witnessed the birth of my first child. I’m still moist with joy and exhaustion.
If you must know, I’m recovering from watching my wife push out our baby. I’m not kidding. Nothing prepares you for that job. Ditch digging, thief chasing, pulpit pounding, paper writing- nothing readies you for the uselessness of a man when a miracle unfolds. What happens is, you’re full of pride at having made a person and full of confidence that everything will be fine; yet you are helpless, and as the minutes turn into hours your spine gets tighter and tighter until it launches you to the moon.
That was me in the delivery room- the solitary male in a crowd of eleven, clutching Dani’s limp leg, holding it high and separate, stroking her naked skin, counting to ten again and again, watching her lips curl back like a wolf, telling her it was almost over, wondering if it was almost over, glancing over my shoulder toward my mother and her mother and my sister and her sister, and then across the bed where the nurses had dressed the doctors in what appeared to be HAZMAT suits while other nurses monitored heart-rates and IV drips, and all I could control was the Pandora radio station on my IPhone- about which Dani had hollered mid-contraction: “Turn that off unless you’re connected to Wifi!”
She pushed for two and a half hours. And I don’t mean delicate pushes like you’d expect from your wife. I mean sweaty moan-y pushes like you’d expect from a soldier with a sword in his liver. And her moans kept getting louder while her tears kept growing larger until they were the fast rolling drops that would make any husband panic.
Soon enough the baby started poking through. His hair came first, dark and thin. A sopping wet tuft and a trickle of blood. He scooted forward and backward with every push and release. In and out like the twitch of a tongue.
All the eyes in the room focused on the crux of the V. It was like we were waiting for the entrance of an unknown celebrity- the open runway, the camera flashes, the intense focus on a bright red curtain behind which someone important waited. I wiped Dani’s sweat, whispered in her ear, pressed my forehead against hers when the moans got sharp.
During one moment in particular I drank in the the entire room. Women in motion like synchronized chaos, the rise and fall of voices with every push, the counting and cheering, the use of bars and pulleys and mirrors, my mom’s steady breathing cues, the beep-beep-bop of the computer screen, 126, 126, 127, everything’s good, everything’s great, the empty IV and the nurse who replaced it, Mel and Ray scrunched beside me- sharing Dani’s leg, patting my shoulder, locking eyes with us both.
I wanted to spread myself across the entire room. I wanted to stand at the foot of the bed so I could catch my baby and at the head of the bed so I could hold Dani’s hand in case she needed to break my fingers. And weirdly, I wanted to huddle up with the doctors when they whispered among themselves. And when two nurses rushed out of the room and returned with antibiotics I wanted to drift over to the corner where I could lock arms with both moms and we could all clench our helpless teeth in unison.
That’s when an unexpected inkling arose. “Hey wow,” I thought, “this is WAY too much to absorb!” That was the whole revelation but the revelation kept growing throughout the entire delivery. Every push, every trail of blood, every tuft of baby hair that widened into a baby head- it was all fraught with such precarious, miraculous life-and-death intensity that it stole my ability to cry. It stole my ability to laugh. All I could do when my son burst through was nothing- but gasp in helpless, flabbergasted wonder.
Look. I’m not the kind of guy to get swallowed up in a moment. I’m the kind of guy who swallows up the moments. I jump forward or backward in my mind if the present moment can’t live up to it’s billing. Or, if I must remain present, I try to infuse it with craftier beer or unexpected thrills or anything to make it pop.
Usually the only time I’m fully in the moment is when something happens that I didn’t see coming. Like a truck, in the opposite direction. That’s when I feel my heart pulsing in my forehead and the cold skin of my palms against the wheel. That’s when I notice how gentle the threads of my jeans are when I jerk my foot to the break, when the rumble stripe rumbles, when the back-draft whips my hair while I recover. That’s when I’m in the moment.
But the birth of my son turned out to be a big enough moment to consume me. I felt every sensation you could imagine- just as screechy as if my sedan was careening across the highway.
We’re home now and I’d be back in control of all my moments if that delivery room didn’t change me. Unfortunately, my son is already teaching me about the sacred nature of ordinary moments. For example: what if it isn’t only the spectacular moments that are too much for me? Like, what if every moment, however mundane, has more life gurgling within it than I could absorb? My kid sure makes it seem possible.
I’ve been thinking about those mundane moments as I watch him. Over the last 12 days he’s been nestled in the crook of my arm, gazing up with the exact foggy-eyed wonder that crossed my eyes in the delivery room. And just like the delivery room was for me; now all of my sons gas cramps are alive and immediate and overwhelming.
Which is how I felt when he came to life. It’s been reverberating in my bones like existential vertigo. But it got me thinking about how often Jesus riffed on the mysterious Kingdom of God- how it’s present and distant and inside and outside and already and not yet. And for a brief flash the Kingdom of God sounded to me like the mundane moments of everyday life.
That’s when I thought of Martha and Mary and how Jesus jived with Mary’s mundane life but questioned Martha’s. If that’s a valid litmus test for faith then perhaps true spirituality is nothing more than to witness the moment-by-moment unfolding of life, to accept our cradles in the cosmos, and to receive each inexplicable moment as a treasure which can only be partially explored.
That sounds too easy. And maybe it is? I’ve been watching my son and I’ve noticed that his secret for living in the moment is his helplessness. It’s precisely the fact that he cannot change his own diapers that keeps his senses bright while I do it for him. If he could do it himself it would just be another forgettable shit.
But nobody springs for the “I’m helpless” paradigm. I don’t. (Who knows, maybe that’s why I need a truck to barrel toward me to feel alive these days.)
What I do know is that an elegant relationship is already forming as a result of my son’s helplessness. He needs me and I find him irresistible. We both live in the moment, his needs get met and my love swells, he learns to trust while I learn to be attentive.
I hope me and him go on like this forever! I’m the luckiest. :)