Listening to: Sterfish's excellent June mixmania! disk
Note: TOOMA suggested that I enter this "Golden Oldie" into this month's Blogging For Books. This was originally published December 14, 2004 although I have edited it here a bit for the contest.
She was born on a typically gorgeous late-September morning in Colorado. The memory of that day is as clear as the rarified blue of an autumn sky. Even if Mark Maguire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris' single-season home-run record and President Clinton faced impeachment, 1998 is branded into my mind as the year of Lilly. Everything else exists as vague details; my daughter's arrival resonates with the clarity and peel of a well-made prayer bowl.
We had hunkered down in a "birthing facility" for a scheduled C-section due to X being considered "high risk" after we'd lost our first in a distressed delivery. Needless to say, anxiety was red-lining for the both of us and as the hours edged closer to the birth of our (hopefully) healthy, baby girl, our freak-out grew deeper. Considering the trauma we'd experienced with our first taste of a delivery-room, we girded ourselves for the worst and hoped it would not happen again.
The procedure was scheduled at six in the morning. Never having been a morning person (at least not then, before becoming a dad), I doubted I would have the presence of mind for the birth. Negotiating the disposable scrubs might as well have been a matter of differential calculus. At that uncivilized hour, my few neurons firing were the ones devoted to answering nature's call or telling me it's probably time sleep might be useful.
It was fortunate for everyone involved that, other than figuring out back from front and what to do with the shoe-coverings, there wasn't really any function for me in the operating room. The sense I got from the O.R. staff was that, had I not been the dad, I probably would have been tagged and sent to the morgue. To the staff's credit, things moved quickly, efficiently, from administering the anesthesia to making the incision to finally pulling Lilly from X's belly.
And then - I saw Lilly, squirming and crying, alive, very alive.
My heart leapt because the son we'd lost had arrived motionless and silent, purple, with black eyes. Lilly was noisy, howling, pink and feisty, and with eyes as clear as the autumn sky. She had arrived at last.
The nurses clipped the cord and ceremoniously had me cut it. As soon as my scissors cut through, they immediately took my girl to warmth beneath a heat lamp where they cleaned her up, weighed her, measured her, and performed all the Apgar stuff.
A nurse wrapped Lilly in the little felt blanket and then, turning to me, asked, "Daddy, would you like to hold your daughter?"
Immediately, I wept. I took her, held her, let myself be mystified by her - and fell instantly in love. I had never seen anything so perfect and beautiful and wonderful. I was awestruck, as if I'd been standing on top of the universe and looking down on the rest of creation to see Eden and the lily in the garden. Nothing else mattered to me at that moment.
It was then, at that moment, a flash, a realization, a revelation.
In Zen they all it Kensho, an awakening, a moment of insight into one's self.
My own awakening, in that operating room, was filled with light. For the first time ever, I was suddenly secondary to something else; from that moment on, Lilly would always take precedence over me.
In that flash of realization, I saw that no matter what, I would gladly, unconsciously, without a second thought, sacrifice my own life to spare hers. The center of the universe had shifted and I was elated by the change. It was as if a life-long burden had been lifted and I was free.
Awakening atop awakening, I had a second realization. I suddenly knew what Love was.
Real Love, I realized, was not the love of illusion or desire or romance or eliminating loneliness or accepting co-dependency; it was not the trick of biology to replicate my genes. Love was, I saw, authentic, that no matter how much I looked, I had never found because what I thought was love was not Love. Lost in my own illusions of what love was supposed to be, a thing determined by books and movies and songs and poetry, I had gotten distracted, concerned only with the condition of my own heart at the end of the game.
My daughter brought truth to me, quite out of my control, freely giving it, "This is GOOD, this is GOD, this is the only thing that matters and it is yours, it comes with me in lieu of a User's Manual, make of it what you will but it is your gift of me."
My awakening, the realization was that yes, this was Love, that I could Love and that I could now know Love. In that flash of a moment, in suddenly knowing Love, the infinite possibilities of life were revealed to me.
When I tell my single friends about the gifts my children have given me, I know that they don't understand, that they can't understand. I understand them - I was clueless like them, once. I too thought love was about finding someone to fawn over and bring flowers to, someone with whom I would always have shaking-the-plaster-off-the-walls sex with and quote song lyrics into the wee hours. Now, after awakening, I know that where they see a fire, I only see a spark.
Love is putting someone before me, always, without thinking or planning or sense of obligation or condition. Loving is for the sheer and unending joy of doing it, the ease of it, the inevitable and unavoidable urge of it. Love as natural and necessary as breathing is the only true Love.
Just before Marni came along, I wondered how I would be able to share that Love. After all, my Love for Lilly seemed so complete and comprehensive, I wondered how I could even conceive of divvying that up and giving some of it to someone else. The concept scared me. I was afraid that I'd somehow love my new baby less than Lilly since I knew that there was no way I could ever deflate what I felt for my first daughter. How could I divide my Love when I wanted to give Lilly everything?
The universe is so cool. As soon as you think you know something, there's something else to be learned. The constant unraveling of reality, revealing more and more of itself, makes me want to hang on and find out as much as I can for as long as I am allowed.
After Marni came along, I realized that Love was infinite, abundant. I did not have to mete it out because there was more than enough to go around. Once found and tapped, the well is deeper than I could ever dream. Love not only sustains itself but multiplies, reaching out beyond the limits of the universe.
With my children, my days are a constant reminder of that fact, each day is a gift of Love. It is nothing I've done; it is all due to my children. Lilly, Marni, and Zeke may test the limits of my patience but they never test the limits of my love. There are no limits.