Life is a fluid, something that arrests us with wonder, and yet something we often take for granted. Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the moments of birth and death.
One event in my life bears a combination of the two, the dual power of which changed my life forever and sent me on a collision course with religion itself: my wife's ectopic pregnancy.
My wife Heather and I decided after our second daughter was born in 2005 that our family was complete, and so Heather received a tubal ligation, a procedure that closes off the fallopian tubes, making pregnancy a near impossibility.
Life however, is indeed fluid, and often balks at impossibilities.
Later that year, we discovered that we were in fact pregnant. The shock was profound; considering the odds of the pregnancy, however, disbelief was soon transformed into joy. What an unexpected gift!
This gift came in a time in my life when I was rather indifferent toward religion, while Heather was nominally Lutheran, having not attended a church service since our wedding. We were decidedly neutral on the subject of faith and enjoyed the peace. Yet, one afternoon, as we drove out of town to celebrate Christmas with Heather's parents, changed everything.
Heather, after only a few weeks of the pregnancy, experienced sharp discomfort in her lower abdomen. We were only a few miles outside of town and had a six-hour drive ahead.
"What should we do?" I asked.
The nurse in Heather wrestled with the possibilities and erred toward caution. "I think we should get this checked out."
We drove back into town and entered the hospital where a doctor conducted a series of tests and ultrasounds. He came back after some time and asked us to have a seat. Heather squeezed my hand as we listened.
"The fetus is growing inside your fallopian tube, which is causing the discomfort. Unfortunately this also posses a serious threat. There is a very high chance the fallopian tube could rupture due to the pregnancy, which would kill both the fetus and mother within minutes."
Chills swept over me. The threat of death for both mother and child locked its gaze upon us, waiting for our next move. This unexpected gift now threatened Heather's life. We spent over an hour exploring options, crunching statistics and possible outcomes. We wanted this tiny life, even though its very existence conflicted with Heather's.
In the end, the risks overwhelmed us. I could not lose both Heather and the unborn child. Heather asked me what we should do. Anger swelled inside me. Why should I have to make this choice, a choice between life and death for my wife and child?
"I want to take you both home," I said. "But even so, I wouldn't survive burying you both."
We proceeded with the surgery and removed the fetus from Heather's fallopian tubes. I paced the waiting room in agony. My cold indifference toward God warmed by the minute into a boiling anger. How could this happen? Why? What did we do to deserve this?
The doctor came into the waiting room with a folder. "The surgery was a success," he said with a cautious smile and opened the folder. "These are images of Heather's fallopian tubes." He pointed at a mass of blood and flesh. "And here is the fetus."
Then, I felt it. Rage's summit, the moment between a dying star's last inch of fiery expanse and devastating collapse into a black hole. In that moment, at the sight of my dead child and the knowledge that I had made the choice, my hatred was complete. I became a sworn enemy of God, in every form, and anyone who professed faith. I wanted the world to burn, just as I was on the inside.
And yet, with death comes new life. While I declared war on religion, my wife revived her native faith in Christ as a path toward solace and comfort. Our home slipped into a bitter abode. I bullied Heather and her burgeoning faith in Jesus. She was in isolation, unable to express her religiosity, and so entered the catacombs of her own private moments, reading her Bible between the fights.
As the years dragged by, my bitterness and her faith deepened despite the dichotomy between us, but I soon realized that the fire that burned inside me could not last indefinitely. I could not hate forever. I could not torment myself and others because of loss. In January of 2011, I entered my rehabilitation program called Project Conversion and spent the year curing myself of hatred with the balm of compassion found among the faithful of many world religions. Today, I am healed.
October 15th is Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and we remember the loss of infants and unborn children with countless parents. We all grieve in various ways: some use their faith for solace, while others are burdened with bitterness, malice, and anger. Loss of life displays just how fragile our very existence and the relationships we create along the way really are. I am here as a testament of how hatred and anger leaves deep scars that, if left unresolved, prevent the fluidity of life from emerging anew in other glorious forms.
William James once said that "The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts life."
Our unexpected gift may be gone, but the question becomes how can I use this experience, that brief twinkle of life, to better the world around me? After all, I am still here. We are all, at this moment, right here, and there remains a great work to be done.
Photo by Frank de Kleine, via Flickr Creative Commons.