The four-year-old boy of a friend of ours passed away shortly before our child was born. He had been very unwell from his birth, and we were so fond of him — this boy who, despite his ill health, was always in good humour — and it affected us deeply.
I remember well those last weeks of my wife’s pregnancy. There was the continual, harrowing anxiety. There were the questions that would never go away, that would loop back in on themselves and gnaw at us more and more as the delivery date drew near: Would it be all right? What if it wasn’t? What, then?
The day our child was born, once the pediatrician and nurse had slid across the glass-and-wood panel cut into the wall between the theatre and the waiting area and told me that we had had a girl, I recall asking, over and over again: “Is she all right? All normal? Heart, lung, limbs, eyes, ear…. Normal?”
Normal. What an awful, insensitive word. But I must confess that I used it.
I can’t remember an occasion when hearing the word ‘yes’ has meant so much to me.
Now that our daughter is seven years old, those events — or even the memory of them — appear distant. I thought again of those weeks when a friend told me a few days ago, over a beer, about his sister’s very bright but autistic son.
I remembered, and I counted my blessings — again. Because our little girl is all right.
What I mean is… Never mind… You know what I mean, don’t you?
I don’t hope for much for my daughter. I am simply thankful (more than thankful) that she is fine, that she doesn’t have to particularly suffer from an ailment, and that she seems largely happy. I feel grateful that I have been able to watch her grow up.
Who could want more? Who should? Her being there — the wonder of her being there and being well — is more than good enough.
That night, I looked at her long and hard as she lay sleeping. Her eyelashes are like long commas. Her back is still narrow enough to fit between the tips of my fingers and my wrist.
Later, it just so happened that I read the following section from Marilynne Robinson’s magnificent, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead. I’d been reading the book from the previous day, and it was a strange coincidence (or perhaps it wasn’t, who knows?) that I should read that particular section on that particular night.
This is an old father, a pastor, who is writing about his very young son:
“There is a shimmer on a child’s hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. They’re in the petals of flowers, and they’re on a child’s skin… All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”
I couldn’t read any more that night. I touched my daughter to make sure that she was there.