Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I don’t like to imagine my loved ones having sex, yet an image will flash by if for some reason I’m thinking about such things—the conception of a grandchild for example. But watching people having sex in a pornographic movie doesn’t bother me. Those films I have seen make no pretence that love is involved. It would be offensive if they did, perhaps even sacrilegious.

In my life, I have worried about many things that turned out be completely foolish. One was that after my first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, I wouldn’t be able to have babies. I went to an obstetrician who gave me a chart and thermometer. On the day the chart indicated, Bill and I made love. I don’t think it was perfunctory, bit I can’t really remember. I brought the chart back to the doctor. Bingo, Ernie had been conceived. I know the day, even the hour. My brother’s wife did have trouble getting pregnant and used the same kind of chart. My nephew was conceived on a day my brother had the flu and they had houseguests. No child was ever loved more. I know of no better example of the intersection of the sacred and the profane.

Once when I was in my late forties I missed a period. I was worried; Bill was desperate. Having children had been hard on him. He loved them and enjoyed their company, but as he grew older he worried about them more and more to the point where it seemed like a mental illness. The great tragedy of his parents’ lives and his was the traumatic birth of his younger brother, ever after not only severely retarded but violent. Bill said to me, “I know how you feel, that you couldn’t have an abortion.” I went down cellar and paced and wept and agonized. Finally I came upstairs and told him that if I were pregnant, I would have an abortion. As it turned out, I was only beginning menopause and so never had to go through with my promise. I will never know if I could have gone through with it.

Life is complex—finding your way through it is sometimes difficult and sometimes even seems impossible. “There’s no way out but through,” as Robert Frost wrote.  And there is the advice from a Perfect Wisdom text of Buddhism: “go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond.”

Saturday, October 13, 2012

With the birth of my second child, Grace, I began to connect the Presence with the holy comforter. The Greek word translated as comforter is parakletos--literally “called to one’s side.”  

If you love me you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Comforter to be with you forever -- the Spirit of Truth.  The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him for he lives with you and will be in you. John 14:15-18

In 1963 when I was seven and a half months pregnant with Grace, three year old Ernie and I had to undergo rabies treatments. He was playing with two neighbors in their sandbox and came in with gunk on his hands. I looked at the box – an animal must have vomited in it. I phoned the pediatrician who said to bring in the three kids. He looked at our hands to see if there were any cuts where the rabies virus might have entered. The neighbor kids had none, Ernie and I had a few tiny ones. Should we have the rabies shots? The other pediatrician in the office had been present in a hospital where they had made the decision not to give the vaccine and the man had died of rabies. So we had 14 shots, one each day in the muscle of Ernie’s small abdomen and in the muscle of my huge one. The doctor explained that the shots were especially painful, but that after a few days our pain thresholds would rise to compensate.

Bill and I felt terrible that Ernie would have to undergo these painful shots, but for me the pain was as nothing compared to the worry about what this vaccine was doing to my unborn baby. The doctor said that he doubted that anyone in my condition had ever had the vaccine so although he could assure me that there would be no side effects for my son, he couldn’t give any such assurance for the fetus.

A month and half later, October 14, the obstetrician told me that the baby was going to come any minute, earlier than the October 26 due date. I phoned my mother and the next day she flew down to Chapel Hill, the first time she had been in a plane. Four weeks passed, the doctor seemed perplexed that the baby hadn’t come, and I was growing more worried by the hour.

On the night of November 17, when the baby was 23 days overdue, at one of the lowest points in my life, we heard a woman screaming. Bill went outside to see what was happening. He came back to tell my mother and me that the police had arrived--we didn’t need to worry.

We went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted. After a while, a scene presented itself to me. Bill, Ernie and I were coming into my mother-in-law’s kitchen. I could smell the perking coffee, Mrs. Bauer was hugging us, Mr. Bauer was beaming. They were exclaiming how well we all looked and how much Ernie had grown. It was a scene that had been enacted several times, so I could have been recalling the memory, or could have been recreating it in my imagination, or could even have been dreaming. But that is not what was happening as I lay there in despair that November night. No, I was wide awake, I was actually there in the kitchen, and I could feel my mother-in-law’s joy at our arrival. I smelled the perking coffee. I felt enveloped and comforted by Mrs. Bauer’s radiant love, a palpable Presence. I relaxed and went to sleep, and several hours later awoke with the happy realization that I was having labor pains.

I had Grace Virginia at nine that morning. Student nurses were there so that their professor could teach them how to do the APGAR checklist for newborns. I heard her describe to the students each part of Grace, and then I heard her say, “This is unusual. She has a perfect score — ten!”

A few months later at a prayer group I attended at the Aldersgate Methodist Church, Miss Klaussen described a badly burned little boy and asked us to pray for him. She had been a prisoner of war in Indonesia, was a nurse in the children’s burn ward of the hospital, and was deeply religious, holy, really. Reverend Midgett, Miss Klaussen, another member of the group and I sat in silence, the dark illuminated by one candle, praying silently for the burned child, and as I prayed, I knew that something else was present. I knew also that it wasn’t because of me that the Presence had arrived, but for Miss Klaussen and for the group.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


When my first child, Ernie, was being born, I felt a Presence--it was “thick”, like the Presence at the tadpole pool--and I thought something like, “God is here.” There could be a scientific explanation of the phenomenon -- certainly at the moment of birth the physiology of the mother must be undergoing powerful changes which might produce such a feeling. Louann Brizendine writes in The Female Brain, “As the baby’s head moves through the birth canal, more bursts of oxytocin fire in the brain, activating new receptors and forging thousands of new connections between neurons. The result at birth can be euphoria, induced by oxytocin and dopamine, as well as profoundly heightened senses of hearing, touch, sight and smell.”

But the Presence I experienced was definitely out there, something other. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be also.”  The passage in The Wind in the Willows exactly describes my experience. “…it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.” In that hospital room, the Presence was very, very near me, Dr. Karsh, the nurse, my baby.