Two boys went to bed with fevers last night. One is dead. The other is my David.
I have to wonder if the guardian angels are vacationing in Florida this month, because too many little guys have fallen asleep for good in this zip code.
In Katherine’s preschool class, a little boy lost his three-month-old brother to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). No explanation. Cooing one minute. Gone another. And at her playgroup this morning a mom couldn’t stop crying.
“Sorry,” she apologized to the group. “My daughter’s seven-year-old classmate and friend died last night. He went to bed with a fever and had no pulse in the morning.”
“Wait a minute,” I wanted to say. “This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan. Healthy American kids don’t go to sleep alive and wake up dead. Not in Annapolis. Not unless they’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. And those are so, so rare. They almost never happen.”
As I looked at this mom’s tearful eyes, I held David’s flushed hand (he still had his fever), and I felt like a weasel for griping to myself the entire drive to the playgroup about how impossible it was to meet a writing deadline when I had a sick kid to take care of. I couldn’t do it, not without staying up past midnight, and I had already gone over my quota for the week. (If I stay up more than three nights in a week, I’ll trigger a manic episode and then crash into a bad depression. I can’t afford to do that now that I am writing this blog about how I try to stay sane.)
But my crammed schedule and impending late night seemed like a fabulous party compared to this friend of a friend’s tragedy.
I took my sick boy home and did something I never do…put my computer to sleep so I couldn’t see the new e-mails streaming in.
“What do you want to do?” I asked David. “We have two hours until we have to pick up your sister.” I walked over to the eight pieces of blue construction paper, an “ocean” that his babysitter had posted on the kitchen wall to house all the sea creatures he had colored and cut out at school. “Should we add more seahorses or octopuses?”
And I remembered what Gayle Boss wrote in her essay “Enduring Boredom” for my book, “I Love Being a Mom” (compiled back when my Prozac was working):
“Domestic tedium, like any desert, has tuned my eyes and ears to the subtle, the hidden, to the still, small voice that directs from within: See this child in the tub, flushed and reaching for you? This is the Presence in the present. This is holy ground, and it is more than enough. Be here.”
Whenever I hear of a story like I did today about the seven-year-old dying in his sleep, I always go back to Harold Kushner’s classic “When Bad Things Happen To Good People.”
Now, remind me again, good Rabbi, why does crap befall decent folk?
The compassionate author, who grieved the loss of his son Aaron, uses the Book of Job to present his case on how suffering happens. Most readers of Job want to believe three things: that God is all-powerful, that God is just and fair, and that Job is a good person.
But those things can’t all be true. Not for the book to make sense.
Kushner believes that God neither causes nor prevents tragedies, that He is not able to prevent suffering, and so thus is not all-powerful.
However, God gives us the strength and the perseverance to overcome whatever crap flies our way (those are my words). And that’s really the answer. Because what is is what is. (Did Clinton say that?)
Kushner explains it better:
“In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.
“Are you capable of forgiving and accepting in love a world which has disappointed you by not being perfect, a world in which there is so much unfairness and cruelty, disease and crime, earthquake and accident? Can you forgive its imperfections and love it because it is capable of containing great beauty and goodness, and because it is the only world we have?
“And if you can do these things, will you be able to recognize that the ability to forgive and the ability to love are the weapons God has given us to enable us to live fully, bravely, and meaningfully in this less-than-perfect world?”
Listen to Kushner’s reflections on the question, “Can We Forgive God?” by clicking here.
At the Burial of a Child
O God, whose beloved Son did take little children into his arms and bless them: Give us grace, we beseech thee, to entrust this child ___ to thy never-failing care and love, and bring us all to thy heavenly kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Source: Book of Common Prayer 1979
Prayer for a Baby Who Died
She was so small,
so full of hope and promise.
What a blessing she has been
to all of us who knew her
those few short months.
She taught us to love,
to hope beyond expectation,
to trust in that which is unseen.
She drew us together
in our anxiety,
our moments of despairing and hopelessness,
as well as in our joys and delight,
and in her every breath.
Her life ended prematurely;
just so had she been born.
Too soon she died.
The tears continue.
and held one another.
The pain will always linger.
Our hearts emptier
for her absence
and the unfulfilled dreams
But the love she brought
into our lives will live forever.
Thank you for giving her to us.
Thank you for the blessing
that she will always be.
Thank you for the love we
would never have known,
but for her
and her brief days with us.
Thank you for _____,
our blessed child of grace.
Vienna Cobb Anderson | Source: Adapted from “Prayers of Our Hearts” © 1991 Vienna Cobb Anderson. Reprinted with permission of the author.
One of the unfortunate things about “coming out” as a depressive is that any enemy in your past can rightfully say, “Aha! See? I knew she was crazy.”
I was not well liked at my first job out of school. I admit that I was as annoying as Tom Cruise minus the Oprah-couch-jumping: loud but inexperienced, ambitious yet impatient, and much too competitive for teamwork. Still, a group of my colleagues didn’t have to make fun of me like a clique of popular seventh grade girls.
Recently I’ve reconnected with an editor there, who, like me, suffers from depression. Our communication has unearthed some of those old feelings of insecurity. There are moments when I feel like I’m back in that little gray cubicle eavesdropping on a conversation about my mistake du jour.
But I know I’m making progress. Because I don’t care as much that a few people (and many more that I don’t know about) don’t like me. One truth that the psych ward taught me is this: trying to do everything perfectly and make everyone like you will guarantee you a permanent bed there. Shoot for half. If you get more, you’re ahead of George Bush. If it’s less, you’ve got God on your side as a cheerleader and loyal fan. Even if you’re annoying.