"Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." — Elizabeth Stone
Two of my friends are in a vigil now at the bedsides of their children. Two children, both young adults, struck down suddenly by two different threats, in two different I.C.U.s, both fighting for their lives. Two sets of parents waiting … and praying.
I am thinking about these friends — about how they were going through their normal day when in a heartbeat everything changed. About how things that were important one moment — running errands, writing a blog post, going to work, calling a friend — were not at all important one moment later.
I have a cousin who as a teen suddenly developed a serious heart condition. At the time, it appeared that a virus had attacked his heart muscle. A transplant saved his life. He grew up and married. He and his wife have a beautiful baby girl. Before she was a year old, a persistent cough quickly revealed a life threatening heart condition. Déjà vu. Again, the vigil waiting for a donor. Again, a donor found. Happy ending? For one family, yes. For another family, grief. And hopefully comfort in knowing that their loss saved someone else.
Two other friends lost their children, one in an airplane crash, one in a fire. Another friend loved her child through years of battling leukemia. Loss that is unimaginable until experienced.
I know many parents, like myself, who have children with autism or other developmental disabilities. Our grief is chronic. It never goes away.
We all live with the possibility of heartbreak as close as our shadow all the time. How do we make peace with that? And yet, we do.
In a classic Buddhist story, a mother, crazed with grief over her son who just died, begs Buddha to use his power to bring her child back to life. Buddha promises her that he will grant her wish if she can bring him a mustard seed from a home in which no one has ever died. She frantically goes from door to door, but everyone tells her a story of loss. She cannot find even one home that has not been touched by death. By the time she returns to Buddha, she understands the truth of sorrow and life. She asks Buddha to help her bury her son and becomes his disciple.
Today I am praying for my friends and their children. And I am also marveling at the miracle of the human spirit. We embrace life knowing that it is fleeting. We sing with joy knowing that everything is impermanent. We choose to love knowing that in doing so we expose the raw tenderness of our vulnerable hearts.
"The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe." — Joanna Macy