Somewhere in my late teens, I started to develop a sensitivity to bleeding. Not to the bleeding from minor cuts and scrapes I got while doing work in my yard or from nicks caused by my razor while shaving, but to the bleeding from deep cuts or wounds associated with some unseen internal damage. I would feel lightheaded if something had cut me deep enough to hit bone. I once passed out while paying for dental work I just had because I was bleeding heavily from the gums where two wisdom teeth were removed.
Into our hands each one was entrusted,
A precious treasure from Heaven above.
With sweet little faces cast in our image,
They teach us all how simply to love.
We hold on well to our precious treasures,
Watching them grow by day and by night.
The world in their eyes is so full of wonder,
Yet to us they are its most blissful sight.
We stand in awe as they start to imagine,
Color the world and brighten our homes.
Unburdening us with their childish laughter –
They make us smile with their smiles alone.
We hurt inside and tears fill our eyes
When from us a precious treasure departs.
It matters not if they were our own,
Seeing them go breaks our spirits and hearts.
So when we cry as these little gifts leave,
And reel from a pain that cuts deep as bone,
A great truth of the world is revealed –
These precious treasures were never ours alone.
For each lovely child parents have in their lives
Is a treasure that comes to them through birth.
But the power children have to enlighten their lives
Can also shine light across the Earth.
No matter the cost, these gifts we must guard
That they might help cast this world anew.
Remembering all the while, we’re here only because
We were all once precious treasures too.
[Inspired by the tragic events of the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school shooting. No words of mine can offer solace to the family members and loved ones of the children who perished. I just want them to know that I grieve with them, as I know many of you do. -M]
Like mists of the morning the Sun burns away,
So brief was my time on this earthly plane.
Though your eyes never witnessed my body grow,
There are parts of my soul your heart should know.
For in that moment when I came to be,
I felt the great depth of your love for me.
Each time you embraced or simply came near,
The lullaby of your hearts beating filled my ears.
Wrapped tight by your thoughts and dreams of me,
I slept in a warmth and comfort you could not see.
While I had not a name for you to call,
I came to the warmth of your hand when beside me it would fall.
Though I’ve left you for now, do not despair,
For I’ve known the best parts of you – your love and your care.
Above all else know this to be true,
I am the love that’s waiting in Heaven for you.
[Dedicated to all parents and couples who have endured loss while trying to have a baby. Stay strong. -M]
The late afternoon skies above New York City on Tuesday were a dull and lifeless shade of gray. Small raindrops fell from the sky with no real force or purpose behind them, as if they were the remnants of tears that rolled off a large face somewhere in the heavens. I held an umbrella in my hand as I walked to the train station, but did not bother to open it. There was something that felt right about the cold raindrops that clung to my face. They served as the tears I was too shy to openly shed in public.
Earlier that morning, my Godfather died suddenly from a heart attack. He was 62.
A few minutes before 6:00 PM two Wednesdays ago, I scurried out of my office in New York City as I usually do, trying to catch the express train back to my home in New Jersey. I walked as fast as my dress shoes allowed me to. Designed for a very different type of use, they caused my shins to strain and my feet to ache as I plowed through the flood of people on the street and headed for the entrance to the underground PATH train. I made it to the entrance in about 10 minutes, as usual, and proceeded to quickly tread the L-shaped staircase down into the stop. Everything about my post-work walk to the PATH up to that point was as it usually was…relatively uneventful. However, what transpired in the next 5 seconds would change every walk I took in NYC from then on and gave me a perspective I will take with me to my grave.
We are raised from childhood to place significant emphasis on our future. Socially, academically, professionally, physically, romantically – we are brought up with the need to predict the outcomes of our future lives in these aspects and take the necessary steps to ensure that those predictions become reality. In a sense, our parents, elders and teachers hand us the mandate to determine how the story of our life should go so that it has a happy ending. We are engaged in this endeavor from the time we are first able to speak and have substantive dialogue with our parents. By the time we become mature adults, we are well-versed in this way of thinking – each day we live is treated as another opportunity to author our story. As we continue to mature, it seems all of our thoughts are influenced by or dedicated to crafting the perfect ending to our story – we become consumed by it, though we seldom acknowledge we’re doing it.
Or so it was for me, until I became a father.
Not a day has gone by since my son was first placed in my hands where I haven’t looked into his eyes and asked myself, “How will his story end?”
Sad in a way, isn’t it? We parents are entrusted with these precious lives with their own stories to tell – the endings to which we will not (hopefully) know. We will spend the better part of our lives laboring for our children, trying to instill good values in them, and teaching them how to live…yet we are not supposed to see how the stories of their lives completely unfold.
I struggled with this realization for a long time. It is an extremely difficult thought to ponder – one that conflates our aspirations with our own mortality. You cannot think of it without confronting the inevitability of your own life’s end, nor can you think of it without feeling the limitless optimism a parent must have when contemplating the future of his or her children. It is a juxtaposition of your story’s ending and the beginning of your children’s stories.
Somewhere in that struggle, however, something wonderful happened. I discovered an immense source of happiness in my new role as co-author (at least for now) of my son’s story. In helping him write his story, I find that the lines of my own story are being rewritten. How amazing it is that in just a few months, the tiny little life entrusted to me – incapable of uttering a word – has started to alter lines of my life’s story which took me years to compose.
No, I do not know how my son’s story will end. Though I will always be curious about it, I hope I never know how it ends. Instead, my hope is that my son sees the ending to my story and how he helped shape it. And while I do not know how my own story will end, I do know for certain that it requires one sentence to make it a happy ending…
He taught his son how to write a good story.
Between the diaper changes and crying fits, I spend a lot of time watching my 8 month old son and musing about what kind of man he will become one day. I watch him while he sleeps and while he plays. I watch him as he figures out how to use his little fingers and toes. I watch him watching me as I’m getting ready for work in the morning. A few nights ago, I was watching my son as he wiggled in my lap from arm to arm, treating me like his personal jungle gym. At one point, he abruptly decided to dive backward from the standing position he was in facing me. Without a thought, my arms and back adjusted instantly to compensate for the shifting of his weight and the change in his body’s shape. A second later, he was comfortably laying with his back across my lap, secure in my arms, and playing with corner of my t-shirt. I turned to my wife – who had been witness to what just happened – and said, “Isn’t it amazing? He just always assumes that I’ll be there to make sure he doesn’t fall.”
No sooner did those words leave my tongue than I started to ponder the wondrous depths of that observation.
My son is not able to speak, communicate thoughts, or fully comprehend the complexities of our Father-Son relationship. However, being able to do all of those things pales in comparison to his ability to express unequivocally who I am to him and what he feels for me – something we grown-ups struggle to do and spend years trying to get better at. By leaping backwards while in my arms without the worry of falling or the fear or injury, my son expressed his pure perception of me.
Daddy is safety.
No ornate words are needed between us – no gifts of appreciation to be exchanged. My son simply lives unfettered in the light of the fundamental truths he has gained from his experiences. There is no reasoning or process of deduction he goes through to determine how he should be with me.
Daddy is safety. I can do anything when I am with Daddy.
He does not recognize the existence of those who would harm him. He does not ponder what is good and what is evil. When he stretches his hands out to me to pick him up, when he clings tightly to me when we’re around strangers, when he falls asleep in my arms – my son proclaims his view of me over and over again.
Daddy is safety. I can do anything when I am with Daddy. I am safe with Daddy.
We adults go to great lengths to learn how to express ourselves in such pure ways. At practically every retreat or team building event I’ve been to, I’ve seen or participated in the trust building exercise where one person closes his or her eyes and has to fall backwards into the arms of a partner. Those who participate as the one who must trust in the exercise often look back before falling – visually confirming that their partner does not have the intention of letting them fall and measuring the distance between them and their partner to minimize the chances of an accidental fall. And if the one who falls is caught – which they always are – he or she is awash with relief and joy that they weren’t hurt even though the chances of any serious injury were slim to begin with. So it amazes me all the more that children not even a year old can do this with such ease.
Sadly, losing the ability to express ourselves this way is a part of growing up – a casualty of maturation. Watching my son, I cannot help but wonder what kind of place our world would be if we never had to lose that ability. Perhaps Heaven is such a place.
But right now, I’m going to try and engage in a pure expression of my own. I’m going to stop thinking about how the expressions of my son – who is curled up in bed sleeping next to me – make him the personification of purity. I’m going to put away my laptop, wrap an arm around him and close my eyelids. Hopefully, this simple expression of mine will let him know…
Daddy is with you. You are safe.