Clay Chesney

Copyright 2017 by Clay Chesney

Photo of mother and baby.

Surfing the channels one night  I came across a documentary about infant birth defects.  I usually avoid those stories set in sterile, white, metallic  hospital rooms where the doctor describes symptoms and treatments and possibilities to new parents who wait intently with desperation in their eyes.  It is the place where innocence meets hard reality, and it can be difficult to watch.  But in this case the story centered on some interesting research in the area of brain disabilities among the newborn and I followed it for a while.  What I found there was unexpected, a revelation for me, and it had nothing to do with medicine or treatment or science.  It was the first meeting between a young mother and her newborn daughter who was severely disabled.

As the doctor described the child’s condition and the permanent limitations it would impose on her life, the mother moved slowly to her baby until their foreheads touched gently, and cried.  The story that would play out over a lifetime appeared in that moment.  For her, life had come to a dividing point where the old images of the future were swept away and replaced by something else. Her daughter wouldn’t live in the days of sunshine that she had known in her own childhood. Her entry into this world was to be more limited.  The scheduled unfolding of life  would not happen as planed, and at every step along the way there would be reminders that her daughter was falling behind, missing those experiences we take for granted as necessary to fulfill our lives.  She wept for her baby, for herself, and for visions dying. 

At first that was all I saw.  But watching those figures in the emotion of their first embrace I was overtaken by a new understanding.  It came to me that what I saw was not just the loss of a dream but also the beginning of a new vision, a deep transformation where grief had already started to give way to something greater.  In a flash she had looked down that long line into the future, seen the disappointments and sorrow waiting there, the need for constant care, the hardships that lay in store, and in that moment she had measured herself and everything she had expected, everything she was capable of giving, and being, and it was spun into a new vision.  In that moment, in that shock, she gave herself in full measure to her daughter. She was reborn to begin that long climb into the future with her daughter by her side, inseparable, indivisible.  She would soon give up her tears as well, for they could not help, only hurt that future.  In the face of her daughter’s loss, she would find the way to become more.  She had already made the commitment, already begun to transform.  There would be no place for grief in her new life, for her greatest gift, beside love, would be strength. 

Much of who we are can creep up on us so slowly that we don’t see ourselves changing. Because we think our nature is immutable we drift into the future without thought of its architecture and how we might grasp it and make it our own .  In that slow drift we never take charge or question its direction and seldom do we know it is happening.  It carries us, we are not the engineer, until we meet with a shock that demands an honest confrontation with who we are and who we can become.   It is in those events that we can rise and give ourselves to something higher.  Blessed are those who can see. 

Writing numerous memos for the government, as I do, will at least make you familiar with composition, but it might make you long for a little imaginative prose. I have written many essays just for myself because they had to be said, even if to no one. I thank my friends for encouragement, and especially my Muse, who has lead me back into print with encouragement and fine example.


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