Lucky Seven

Seven of HeartsOne month after we opened the final flap on the Advent Calendar, a child was born. Far from the environment of a stable, the operating theatre was brightly lit, clean smelling, and sterilised. Everything had gone just as Science had said it ought to go right up to that moment. Yet when our son emerged, he did not cry. Three days later, he died in my arms.

Perhaps to reassure us, since they knew we wanted to try for another child, the doctors told us that what had happened to us was a one-in-one-thousand occurence in the developed world. In the Euromillions lottery, beating one-in-one-thousand odds will win you about fifteen pounds. What happened to me seven years ago was worth so much more than that.

In the past, I would have defined a miracle as a significant, often inexplicable change in a course of events toward an outcome I had been hoping for. The miracle of James coming into our life, however, turned into something I had never imagined would happen, and something I would not wish on anyone. Yet I still call his birth a miracle, because it transformed me.

I was not changed into the father I was expecting to be: toting my son around in a backpack on hikes through the Ojai valley, changing diapers, and proudly displaying photos of first teeth in emails to overseas grandparents. I was transformed by the essence of fatherhood: that pure and selfless love that compelled me to do everything I could do to love and care for my son during those three days–and then to let him go.

James did nothing more praiseworthy than simply being born, and yet I loved (and love) him so completely that there is nothing I wouldn’t do for him. James never had anything to prove, anything to accomplish, anything even to do in this world. Yet he was perfect to me, and precious beyond words. I returned from the hospital with Val, completely stripped of my worldly ambitions. I knew that the only thing that mattered now was love.

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky often wrote, both directly and through his fiction, about the effect of his own experience of being condemned to death, and then having his life spared moments before his execution. One swears in the moments before death never again to take a moment of living for granted. Then invariably, once spared, one slips back into old habits as the veil of mundane living descends again. It has been this way to some extent for me as well.

Yet this reference point of selfless love and surrender to the inevitable has stayed with me, like a lantern in my heart, like a child both born and waiting to be born again. Not a day goes by that I do not sense it. It has taken me seven years to be able to acknowledge that I do in fact feel lucky for having had those three days with James. Because it transformed the seven years that followed, not only through grief, but through love.

A child was born and a father was resurrected. In the darkest days of winter, the light of a brilliant star. Thank you, my son, for teaching me about miracles, for making me the lucky one.