Friday, November 18, 2016

the only way through is through

I lived with a small family for a few years. These were friends of mine who were a newly-married couple when we all moved in together, and a family of four when I moved out four years later. She, the wife, was pregnant twice. During the early months, she stayed in her room during most dinners to avoid strange smells, and when we watched Project Runway together she’d get up to spit into the bathroom sink at every commercial break. Her body changed slowly at first, then fast, from what I could see, anyway. Her belly stretched, her body tired, her breathing become more strained. Inside of her, a new life took form.

One evening partway through her second pregnancy, she sat across from me in the living room. It was quiet, dark outside. The first child was asleep, our other housemates doing other things. She and I were likely both reading. I remember pausing what I was doing and looking over at her. Her legs were tucked under her, her breathing a little louder than normal from the weight of her belly. She would have been at least six months along at this point.

Are you afraid of labor? I asked her.

She looked up from whatever she was doing and, without much thought, responded something like, No, not really. That was how she was about most things – calm, deliberate, un-phased.

I don’t remember if she asked me why I asked or if I told her or how long our conversation lasted. What I remember is thinking that, for her, the only way forward was through such great pain.

I’ve often wondered at my impulse to shut things down partway through. I get scared and turn around. When I was five or six, I went to the town carnival with my family and followed my sisters into a haunted house, the kind where you enter and are guided through until you reach the end, exiting through a different door. Once in, I got scared and backed up and went out the front door, probably crying and looking for my mom.

Transition can feel a lot like pregnancy (and maybe a little like that haunted house, too). When you enter into it, the thing at the end is what you’re thinking of: the baby, the delight, the new life. But halfway in, when the only way through is through, can feel frightful. I think of pregnancy and how the only way to prevent the pain of labor is to cause death to what’s inside, and even then, it still needs to come out. I’m sorry if that’s graphic. But maybe I’m not sorry because it’s true, of babies and of the things being birthed in us. 

Jesus uses this illustration to tell those following him that they would experience great sorrow, like a woman in labor. But, he said, you will also have great joy, like that of a women in her new baby, so great that the pain of what you went through will be forgotten. And no one will be able to take this joy from you, he says.

She had her baby, this housemate of mine. The girl is three years old now, with big, sparkling eyes, a laugh that comes quickly and a stubbornness that befits a younger sister. She was given the name Naomi, meaning beautiful, delightful, pleasant, and I am touched knowing what lively delight and deep, abiding love such pain as labor can bring.

(photo: three-year birthday date with Naomi)

(uh, guys, I fell off the nablopomo wagon. Oops.)

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