Last night a dear friend asked me to accompany her to the local hospital’s NICU ward. For those of you who have never been to one, or know what that acronym stands for, it is a little slice of heaven where gifted doctors and nurses care for those least able to care for themselves, our newborns and preemies. (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit). My friend and her husband are foster parents and we were visiting with the newborn they will soon be bringing home. She was there to outfit him with a car seat small enough to hold and protect him, and attend a class for parents on germs. I opted out of the class and made my way to the waiting area or, “family room,” to wait for her to finish the class. While in the “family room” reading the newspaper, I met a man who was there from South Carolina, visiting his newborn twin granddaughters. The babies each weighed a pound. He shared photos of them with me, showing him holding one of the girls. She completely fit in the palm of his hand. I cried. I cried for the miracle of that photo. When I was birthing my babies, and loosing so many of them, a baby that size would not have survived. Science has changed so much in the past 30 years, especially in the care of premature babies.
When we were finally able to go and actually see the baby, we first had to de-contaminate ourselves. That process was interesting! Once we finally got on the baby’s floor, it was so quiet! We walked into that room and when I saw that little isolette with that tiny baby in it, tears just rolled down my face. That little man weighed barely 5 pounds and was already more than 2 months old. The interesting thing is that he was not due for another 4 weeks, yet. It was wonderful to meet the nurses caring for these little babies. They love what they do. They have a heart for these most vulnerable among us, and they are kind, gentle, and loving to all of them.
My friend was able to change the baby’s diapers and then settle in to feed him a bottle. I sat next to her, and I started to quietly weep. I have lost babies that size. I have mourned the loss of my babies, and I think because of that, I just felt so connected to this little guy. When he smiled, my heart just melted. Here he was, still supposed to be tucked safely inside his mommy, holding my finger and smiling at me. What a miracle of life, and modern medicine. And my heart started to race when I realized – it is still legal pretty much anywhere in our country, to abort a baby this size. My friend looks at me and says, “Don’t you start crying, because I will, too.” And we both smiled at this little gift of life from God. How could anyone hurt a baby this tiny? He was no lump of tissue; he was no “inconvenience” in the life of his mother. He was born far, far too soon; at least his birth mother chose life for him.
Each of us has been vulnerable in our lives. Many of us still are. But holding that little baby in my scrubbed and itching arms brought me back to the times when I needed the most care, when I was the most vulnerable, and I was thankful for the people around me, who cared for me. Each day is a miracle because we woke up. Father Justin Rose, a dear friend and our former pastor, has a saying and it is, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.” That quote always brings me up short, because my days are definitely getting shorter. I’m no longer that crazy, young woman or little girl. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, mother-in-law, friend. But there are many things I no longer am…I am no longer someone’s grand daughter, because that generation has all been laid to rest and I’m certainly no longer a girl, or a teenager. I am still a daughter, but not for many more years. Those things that I was, I will never be again. And there are not many other things I will become, as I edge nearer and nearer to my last breath. I read an article written by a woman who cares for the dying and in it she spoke to the 5 things you regret when you die: Working too much; not living the life we want, but living what others want for us; wishing you had been able to express your feelings; staying in touch with friends; and letting yourself be happier (http://www.lifebuzz.com/5-regrets/). The list seems simple enough, and yet, how many of us do these 5 things?
Last night, holding that little man in my arms, I thought of all the things in life I have not done, and I am pretty happy with the things I have done. I try to live as regret-free as I can. I wish I had pursued the things I wanted, more than what my parents and others wanted for me (like choosing the wrong major in college, again and again!!). I think I should have taken the time to write the “great novel” or something along those lines. I realize, as I gain wisdom, how truly little I know. Learning should never stop. I am grateful for the love of my family and close friends, and I am extremely grateful for the gift of my faith. I know, without any regrets or doubts, that I am living the life of faith God intended for me. I am content. And I have realized that I can still be surprised at things, I can still learn things, and I can still love new people. It is amazing, our capacity for love. I try to be open to the new things I see in life, the new experiences, the new life buzzing around me. The oncoming Spring is bringing with it a sort of excitement. The dark of winter is slowly being replaced by days of 12+ hours of sunshine. The snow is melting – I actually saw grass this morning! The world is turning and new life is all around us. Lent is an amazing time of reflection and coming out of Lent is a time we run smack-dab into the promise of eternal life. The Cross is born by Christ for us, and we all add to the weight of that Cross. We all hoist our own cross on our shoulders and trudge through the winter to the Spring, and the promise of eternity.
Seeing and appreciating the fragility of new life and how we all enter the world that way, reminded me that eventually, we all leave life in the same way – dependent on others for our care, perhaps even the very air we breathe. We leave the world a shriveled vestige of what we once were. Isn’t it so interesting to think that we come in this world dependent on others and leave the same way? I know some are taken rapidly, without need for palliative or any other sort of care. But most of us just sort of fade. And as I look closer at the sunset, and realize that my days are truly numbered, I pray to look forward to it with peace in my heart. I pray that nothing was left untried that I truly wanted to do and that I loved the best I could, loving everyone around me.
Through the grace of our Baptism, Chrismation, and reception of the Holy Communion, God is with us. He is also there to comfort us with sacramental anointing when we feel weak and vulnerable. This Lent, I am remembering my own vulnerability, praying for those among us who are completely vulnerable and weak, and daring to open my heart to all of God’s children.
Feeling a little vulnerable today in light of the miracles I witnessed yesterday. Definitely humbled by those miracles and the working of God in that hospital and the dedicated staff seeing to those babies. God’s blessings often overwhelm me with the sublime beauty of it all. Blessed Lent.