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Monday, September 21, 2015

Now and then - Buechner

In January of that first winter in Exeter, our first child was born. She was a girl, to be named Katherine after my mother, and to the last of my days I will remember that first of hers. I had been up all night. Sometime after dawn they told me I could come see her. I was shown down a long, empty corridor. A nurse held her up to the plate-glass window so that I could look at her from where I stood on the other side of it. Her face was puffy and flushed, her eyes swollen shut as though she had just come through some sort of punishing battle, which of course she had. I remember thinking that all my past and Judy's past and the past of all the people I had loved most in my life were caught up in her and that from that moment forward my life would never be the same again, as indeed it never has. She looked beat-up and exhausted. I think she was sleeping. With the glass between us, I could not touch her. She weighed less than my briefcase. She was the hope of the world. Tears leapt to my eyes as if I had been struck. 
"He who loves fifty has fifty woes. . . who loves none has no woe," said the Buddha, and it is true. To love another, as you love a child, is to become vulnerable in a whole new way. It is no longer only through what happens to yourself that the world can hurt you but through what happens to the one you love also and greatly more hurtingly. When it comes to your own hurt, there are always things you can do. You can put up a brave front, for one, and behind that front, if you are lucky, if you persist, you can become a little brave inside yourself. You can become strong in the broken places, as Hemingway said. You can become philosophical, recognizing how much of your troubles you have brought down on your own head and resolving to do better by yourself in the future. Like King Lear on the heath, you can become compassionate. Like the whiskey priest, you can become a saint. But when it comes to the hurt of a child you love, you are all but helpless. The child makes terrible mistakes, and there is very little you can do to ease his pain, especially when you are so often a part of his pain as the child is also part of yours. There is no way to make him strong with such strengths as you may have found through your own hurt, or wise through such wisdom, and even if there were, it would be the wrong way because it would be your way, not his. The child's pain becomes your pain, and as the innocent by-stander, maybe it is even a worse pain for you, and in the long run even the bravest front is not much use.

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