The most important thing

Prayer wheel

For three days I’ve been thinking about the families of the children who died in Newtown, Connecticut.

I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be a parent.

Our first child was born prematurely on a bright, crisp autumn day. One minute I was lying in bed planning how I’d spend my Sunday, the next my husband and I were racing to the hospital. Our wee one seemed determined to make his appearance on planet earth right then and there on Interstate 90.

A few hours later – after a very short labor – we had a son.

I looked at him sleeping on his tummy in his isolette in the NICU. A scrunched-up bundle in a baby blanket with his little bottom in the air and a head of black Irish/Sicilian hair. Suddenly I knew I would sacrifice anything, even my life, for this new little person. It was like when you look at someone you’ve seen before and realize you’re in love – except it was much, much more than that.  For a moment my ego dissolved. I was no longer the center of my own little universe.

Book cover, Some Assembly Required
As displayed in Queen Anne Books, Seattle

A few years later, when I read Anne Lamott’s words in Operating Instructions, I thought: she has it exactly right. Last week, I came across the same passage again on one of my favorite blogs, and I planned to share the post and add my thoughts. Then Friday happened and Lamott’s words took on a greater urgency for me as I shopped at the market for Christmas cookies and decorations.

Before I got pregnant with Sam, I felt there wasn’t anything that could happen that would utterly destroy me. . . . Now there is something that could happen that I could not survive: I could lose Sam. I look down into his staggeringly lovely little face, and I can hardly breathe sometimes. He is all I have ever wanted, and my heart is so huge with love that I feel like it is about to go off. At the same time, I feel that he has completely ruined my life, because I didn’t used to care all that much.

I think that moments of great joy and great tragedy shock us out of the ordinary and awaken within us a singular intensity of compassion, good will, and love. The boundaries between us and them, between the self and the other, fall away, if only temporarily.

There will be plenty of time later to ask why and bicker and debate the meaning of Newtown and what can be done to stop it from happening again.

The most important thing now is to ride the great wave of love and compassion this tragedy has released into the world – for as long as it lasts –  and take care of our children, 27 heartbroken families, and each other.

Quote: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, Anne Lamott. Fawcett Columbine, New York: 1993.