We were watching a light-hearted medical television series on Netflix when things turned serious on the show and a mother had to suddenly deliver a premature infant unexpectedly. In seeing the tiny, vulnerable creature struggling to live, I was immediately ushered back to our personal drama of the premature birth of our son thirty one years ago. I began to cry, which doesn’t happen easily for me, in the flood of memories of those first hours and days of Ted’s life.
One moment I was watching the imaginary and happy world of a television show, and the next I was transported back in time to a hard reality, seeing my infant son struggling to breathe in those first hours, stroking his tiny body with my hands, and putting a little Paddington bear, dressed in a yellow raincoat and hat, beside him in the crib for comfort. I remembered the helpless feeling of being unable to help him breathe, and the feeble moments of sending love from my heart into him. That was perhaps one of my first discoveries of what it means to send love along the invisible web of divinity connecting us all.
Since his premature lungs could not inhale enough oxygen to sustain his life alone, tiny Ted had to be placed on a ventilator inside of an incubator in those first hours to help him breathe. Because he was becoming jaundiced he also had to be placed under a special light, which meant his little eyes had to be covered with gauze taped to his forehead. To check his blood chemistry he had an IV needle in him.
Life outside the womb in those first days must have seemed terribly harsh to Ted. Watching him go through it was excruciating. This was an extreme lesson on being vulnerable for both of us. But there was more to the vulnerable story of our little family.
Nearby, my wife was confined to her hospital room because of symptoms thought to be eclampsia, which could cause a seizure. (We later learned through a biopsy that she only had one kidney functioning at twenty percent from a kidney disease). Her life was also in danger. So great, my wife and son’s lives were both simultaneously hanging in the balance.
But I learned a potent lesson as I observed human nature in Ted and Carol. Deep in the center of his being there was an innate source of power. As his life was being threatened and his flesh was being invaded by needles and tubes, his will to live was immense. Our son was living the human paradox of complete vulnerability and yet incredible inner strength. In her terribly weakened state, my wife Carol was demonstrating the same powerful will to live. They were what we all are, amazingly weak and strong at the same time.
Through Ted’s first days of life, and Carol’s first days as a mother, I was a silent witness of the fabric of human nature. We are fearfully and wonderfully made with vulnerability at our core, and inside of that is resiliency, strength, and power.
In the middle of a silly television show, I was suddenly reduced to tears. One minute I was fine. The next minute I was crumbling. I could have probably shut down the first impulse to cry, but I gave in to it and let the feelings and the tears flow. I wanted to feel the vulnerability again of opening my heart to loving my family through those terrible days. There is strength and power in the decision to be vulnerable. And in the choice to live this life with an open heart there will be plenty of opportunities to learn the lesson of being vulnerable.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.