I have been watching my son’s breaths since he was born, 22 years ago in a cabin in the woods, welcomed by his sister and brother and father, welcomed to a circle of light and peace by his midwives.
Nights watching your child breathe can be long sometimes. The terrors of pneumonia, the times I sat up holding him against my body, willing his breath to continue, in, out, in, moment by moment while the moon crossed the sky and the dawn slowly unfolded, with birdsong & exhaustion—those were times at the edge.
I almost fell. It was an April morning the last time I seriously considered an early exit from this beautiful and painful world, an exit in which I felt I had to take my fragile child. I am a good mother.
I sought and received help. But I have faced inner and outer bleakness, and these nights as I set up machines to help my boy relax and breathe and sleep, as I adjust the mask and hoses, as I time my heartbeats by the pulse of oxygen, and do not sleep, I consider this fragile world.
There’s a rush of image and information. There’s my throat closing with grief.
My son stopped speaking during the bombing of Gaza two years ago, first telling me he loved all his family but, as he said, “thinking hurts too much”. Be-fore that he had begged me to save the children, to stop the walls from falling, to deal with the wolves that came out of the air and frightened him.
Last night I read of two NATO bombings in Libya and I gasped with pain. Yes, one was the strike—such an innocuous word, like the lighting of a birthday candle—that murdered Khadafi’s 29 year old youngest son, and three grand-children under 12.
I felt the walls falling, as I do each time I see those dry reports across a geography of pain—a wedding party, a young soldier, a marketplace, a dance, a school, a hospital.
The other report from Libya was of the bombing of a school for children who, like my son, have Down Syndrome.
I remember a photo from Iraq, maybe 5 years ago, from such a school. Smiling children who looked a bit like Gabe danced in a careful circle, wearing bright paper hats, as the sky shattered with bombs.
Sometimes my son’s efforts to get oxygen to his heart and fingertips and brain only get him to a bit above 60% of the 100% oxygen the human body craves.
I think we are all gasping for air now. Gasping for hope, compassion, sense.
I watched the Royal Wedding as I timed Gabe’s breaths and monitored the machines. Such lovely lace, such luxurious satin. How sweet the little brides-maids, with their lily of the valley crowns, and how pretty the row of trees. Hornbeam trees, beautiful trees of the ancient British forests, brought into the abbey to make a pretty, artificial forest to delight our eyes. Oh, I love romance and happily ever after. Yes, I once was sure I was a lost princess, when I was four.
It passed the time, this wedding. For a while I didn’t think of children dying or truth tellers imprisoned, of babies without their mothers, of lost elders, of hungry people right on my own mainstreet, of despair. I just thought, gratefully, how pretty, my mind a wash of white satin and bridal bouquets.
And then I kept trying to breathe myself, adjusting the machines, the darkness there. My son was sleeping well. Dawn came again, with birdsong and a wash of pink light.
And I don’t know, really, what to do with this precious world but to love it. And I don’t know what to do with all the wrongs I see but name them.
And keep breathing.