One month ago, I was in the hospital. The same hospital where my baby girls were born four years earlier.
One month ago, I was holding our newborn son. The same baby I pleaded to God to keep safe as I spent day after day, week after week, in the hospital with preeclampsia.
By the time I left the hospital for good, my world had been turned upside down. We had a premature baby in the back seat. We had spent the anniversaries of our daughters’ deaths in grief’s ground zero. We had left our lives uprooted, torn away from home and work without warning.
I couldn’t make sense of how birth and death had broken me open all over again. It felt like too much to process, on top of a scary delivery and a slow recovery that left my heart literally sick.
But even then, I had no idea what was coming next. None of us did.
. . .
What seems like a lifetime ago, I had made myself a small, quiet promise. This last maternity leave would be a gift to myself.
I would soak up the sweet small baby like never before. I would cocoon us away from emails and agendas and deadlines. We would fall in love without interruption.
Instead I am homeschooling three kids upset at the disappearance of their friends, school, activities, and normal life. Instead I am watching my husband work in the home office that used to be mine.
Now we are sheltering in place. Now we are social distancing. New language for our new normal. Surreal headlines consumed without second thought.
Now I am never alone – not with my thoughts, not with the new baby – and yet I am desperately alone. It is ironic isolation we share now, separated from family and friends, church and community, work and school and neighbors and life as we knew it.
Everything has changed.
. . .
One night I could not sleep. (Many of us feel this now, awful anxious nights.)
I scrolled and scrolled as the baby nursed and nursed, and finally I said: enough. Enough.
I tried to pray but couldn’t. So I opened my phone, took a deep breath, and typed out the words that had been circling in my head.
A poem that arrived unbidden.
The next morning I decided to share it. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who needed the words, who was craving the old world, who wanted to hope that good would come back and we might be able to welcome it with deeper gratitude.
No. I wasn’t the only one.
By mid-morning I noticed that it was circling faster than normal. By evening the stats were wildly higher. Thousands. Then millions.
But I barely noticed – between the baby wailing to be nursed, the big kids clamoring for my attention, the house mess piling up, another dinner needing to be made, another day’s lessons needing to be planned. So much for that maternity leave.
Meanwhile the words spread like wildfire. (I hate to call them viral.)
What came next was surreal. First the schools shut down, then our workplaces, then the whole state. Meanwhile friends were sending me texts riddled with exclamation marks: politicians and celebrities sharing the poem, pastors and atheists and brands and universities and doctors and editors and the president’s daughter.
For days I tried to keep up with the comments, the emails, the copycats, the requests to turn the words into music, paintings, videos. Finally I had to let it all go.
This is no time for self or ego or ambition. This is the time for the common good. What happens to those words now is out of my control.
As was my son’s birth.
As was the past month of crisis and chaos.
As will be whatever our collective future holds.
. . .
I have no idea what comes next. None of us do.
This is our deep desperation.
All I want is for my family to be healthy, my friends to be ok, my baby to be safe. All I want is for those on the margins to be cared for, the health care workers to be protected, the government leaders in charge to act like it.
All I want is everything. All I can do is next to nothing.
But these are the small rhythms that will save us. Make dinner. Fold laundry. Call friends. Take walks. Answer emails. Wash dishes. Teach the kids. Feed the baby.
This is the reason the poem struck a chord around the world. Because we long for the everyday goods we didn’t know we loved until they were gone. Because we hope the world can be changed for the better, despite daily evidence to the contrary.
. . .
One more thing I want to tell you. The baby is named after a prophet.
As is our practice, we picked his name months ago and kept it secret. (Much to our older kids’ chagrin, though we did let them pick his middle name.)
We knew his name would be prophetic, but we never expected it to be prescient. Now the words of his namesake resonate like never before:
Behold, I am doing something new.
Do not fear, for I am with you.
I will make a way in the wilderness.
This strange new world is the only one he will know. He is a child of After, born in the time of pandemic.
Will he come to know all the things of Before that I wished for in these words? Or will some be known to him only in stories of long-ago?
None of us know. But none of us are alone in unknowing.
May this worst bring us to better, indeed.