She is my daughter, and the pain flows from the same place as the love.
7 November 2016
My daughter dressed up in a purple tutu and headband for Halloween. She isn’t going out for candy, though, because she is in a transparent box—as she has been the other five days of her life.
She is draped in wires made by wicked-smart PhDs. The natural course of things is more or less suspended in a six square foot chamber of legerdemain. A fortress, really, against time and the world, which have fallen through sin into decay and threat.
I look with pity and perplexity. Pity, as I would at any somber fellow in a glass cube, naked and observable. Perplexity, because she wasn’t even supposed to breathe for another month and a half. What is she doing here?
The other babies in the NICU are half her size. Less. They have more wires, made by smarter PhDs.
The Lord willing, these children will reach their due dates and beyond. They will move on. And yet odds are that life support will be needed again someday for many of them—a car crash, cancer, any number of other unmentionables.
Here, hooked up to modern science, they are just holding on, waiting for a free life of unshod growth: playing and learning and becoming wicked-smart PhDs. But out beyond the hospital, the decay and threat gradually press their case, urging eventually back to the same place.
These thoughts meander through my mind the more hours I spend in this place.
There is a word that philosophers use for a question with no answer: aporia. It came from a Greek term that literally meant, “I am at a loss.” It is like an empty feeling in the gut, and it pangs as I think about decay and threat. You feel the same, I know, when you are made a witness to suffering. I do not have to describe it to you. I am at a loss.
But she is my daughter, and the pain flows from the same place as the love. Fingers touch in a box. Songs dance among us. I am at a loss as to her situation, but I am in love with her person.
It is the same with God. He looks in pain upon our pain, and yet is carried by love. Loving us now in our pitiable states. Preparing a blessed rest and future—but now sitting with us in the hospital. Singing over us.
I have nothing to offer but love right now. I love her in her wires and helplessness. I love the Lord in decay and threat. I want it to change, yes, and I want her home, but that desire cannot consume me or it will take the place of love right now.
And I want the end of the hospital cycle – I am at a loss every day I go to see her, and for all the others (and her) whom I will visit there in years to come – but I cannot let it consume me or I will not learn to love painful and pitiable things and people, and I will not learn to love out of my own self-pain and self-pity, and I will not learn to love the Lord.
Ah, look. Now she is asleep again. Blessed rest.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.