When does life begin? At the ever-increasingly-cliched gleam? At the first breath taken, or at the first breath taken away? At the first step forward, or at the first step backward? At the moment of conception, or at the moment of consciousness?
Only yesterday I discovered a new answer to my question. I sat in a doctor's office next to my supine wife and we both were staring at a TV screen picturing a blob next to some other blobs. The nurse pointed to the middle blob and said things like yolk sac, seven and a half weeks, and healthy. I'll admit I wasn't paying attention to anything she was saying. She could have shouted out words like Chrysanthemum, Bavarian Warmbloods, and pancakes, and my expression would have never changed. I was in the middle of a discovery that I had never made before that moment. The blob in the middle of the other blobs was shaped like a gingerbread man. Just under the middle blob was a heart that was beating almost as fast as mine. Though these are interesting observations, the greatest discovery was what came next.
The nurse (could have been the same one, could have been a different person altogether) turned a switch and I felt the entire world go silent. The only entity allowed to make a sound when the switch was on was The Gingerbread Man on the screen. The only sound echoing through our world was the sound of his heart- Wompwompwompwompwompwompwompwomp. I think I opened my mouth to say "Oh, wow," but I couldn't, because the nurse's switch was still turned into the ON position. It was at that moment I made my discovery: Life begins when you give life to someone else. I was twenty-five years old. My wife, twenty-four. We had been alive for half a century between us, but we were never alive like we were when The Gingerbread Man was talking. Life had only just begun for us, as it also had for The Blob.
I don't remember the drive home (which is comforting, because I was driving). I remember the quickest day in modern history passing very swiftly and bedtime approach. I tried to pretend I was tired. I tried to pretend the day was normal or average, and that tomorrow was a new day of opportunity. Kellee was asleep easily. Unlike me, it had been a long day for her. Only the cat, nudging to get under the covers with her, kept her awake at all. Me? I had something else keeping me awake. There was a very nervous person pacing in my frontal lobe with all kinds of questions, none of which I had an answer for.
How can something so small make you feel as if you are the strongest man in the world?
How can someone with a heart the size of a letter on this page make yours grow three sizes in a day?
How can someone shaped like a holiday cookie make you crumble at the sight of him?
How can you possibly be "wrapped around a finger" which, as yet, doesn't exist?
Months before the sleepless nights of feedings, cryings, rockings, and changings, I was having my own sleepless night for other reasons.
Later, that pacing person in my brain started in with more questions. What will he look like? What will his name be? What color hair will he have? Might he be talking within a week's time of his arrival (not likely)? Will he look like his mother (hopefully)? Will he have my nose (oh, dear)?
Why were these questions being asked at such a late hour, or even at all? Had I any answers for them they would not have helped.
As soon as those questions faded answerlessly through our window and into the snowy air, the man in my frontal lobe was washed over again with new life and a new set of questions. What will she look like? What will her name be? What color hair will she have? Might she be talking within a week's time of her arrival (still unlikely)? Will she look like her mother (again, hopefully)? Will she have my nose?
How do you sleep when that worrisome person is chewing off his proverbial finger nails? I calmed him and me down at the same time by realizing that the whole day was about dealing with paradoxes. The answer to any and all worry must consist of one, too. And so, before bidding adieu for the night to the man in my forehead, I made peace with this one thought: In less than a year, I will have complete control over an independent life. Yet, at the same time, I know that I will have lost all control over a dependent life. I don't know why that made me fall asleep, or even feel less anxious. Perhaps comfort lies in the fact that we know we don't know what will happen, but that up to this point, we have been cared for by a host of others.
Last night I slept well, yet not at all. I would like to say that I dreamt of things like blobs on a screen, Bavarian Warmblood horses, and The Gingerbread Man, but I didn't. Maybe I will some other night when the worry is not so great. Maybe knowing that you don't know is the greatest paradox not only in parenthood, but also in life. On second thought, I know that it is. Or maybe it isn't. What do I know? After all,