Twenty five years ago tonight, I had my first experience with labor pains. It was about 11 o’clock, and Paul had gone to bed early, helped along by a muscle relaxant taken for his injured back. I sat alone in the living room of our small apartment, wondering when to wake him up. As the aching began to creep up on me, my fear slowly kicked in. I roused my poor husband, and together we timed, and counted and breathed deeply. I tried to keep myself calm, but my nerves were mounting. I was afraid of the pain, and afraid of the process of birth. As I looked at my hugely swollen body, I had terrible doubts about its ability to complete the task before it. I feared for my baby, and I feared for myself.
Thirty six hours later, the battle was over, and that baby girl was safely in my arms. Although it hadn’t all gone as planned, in the end it turned out well. I had my baby, breathing and crying, nursing and sleeping. Living. I don’t remember much of her first day of life; the medication that they give you after a C section is wonderfully numbing. But I do remember using the tip of my forefinger to uncurl her tiny hand, to look at the faint tracings of lines across her delicate palm. Like a gypsy beside her wagon, I peered into that hand, hoping to find proof of a long life. I told myself that I could see it. I convinced myself, in my fatigue and emotion and drugged fogginess, that I was looking at the irrefutable fact of my daughter’s healthy future. I didn’t believe myself, not really, but for years after that first morning, I opened the hands of my sleeping children to find evidence that they were safe.
Today I am thinking of Kate’s twenty fifth birthday. I have her gift, and an ice cream cake, and plans to have all three kids around for dinner tomorrow night. Today I am lucky; my prophesies have so far come true.
Today I watch the news. The story all day is a tale of murder and death and insanity in Arizona. A mentally ill young man opened fire at a grocery store, aiming for a Congresswoman and those around her. He hit the Congresswoman and many others. He killed, among other people, a nine year old girl. She had just been elected to her third grade student council, and she wanted to learn about politics in America. She was born on Sept. 11, 2001, the day that the towers fell.
Today I watch the news, and I think of that little girl’s mother. Did she uncurl her baby’s fingers on the day she was born? Did she trace the finest of lines across that tiny hand? Did she try to tell herself that her girl was safe?
We can never know the span of the lives that we love. We can’t foresee the ends of those lives, no matter how hard we try. Hatred and violence and insanity live with us, and all we can do is try to use our love and our strength to protect those who mean the most to us.
Tomorrow night, after the candles are blown out, I will ask my three children to open their palms and let me take one more look.