Chunks of time roll by without me even thinking to say thank you, without me remembering or acknowledging the gift of three years ago. Yet, back then, when I was in the rush of the moment and felt the awareness of G-d and gratitude so deeply, my intention was to fill my life with this. And yet, daily life happens, triggers surface, other stuff takes center stage, and things get taken for granted. But right now, on the anniversary of my daughter’s heart surgery, I pause my complacency, and go within to find my place of gratitude, where I still aspire to live from.
Rewind. My two-and-a-half year old is scheduled for open heart surgery and in my heart and mind there is so much at stake. Though we are at peace with our decision to go ahead and are placing her in the hands of the best surgeon in the world for a surgery that’s supposed to be somewhat “straightforward”, there is the fear of one wrong move, and the fear of the unknown: how will she react to surgery and all that it entails? We are scared. Scared of the letting go, and scared by the little details that we have certain control over leading up, like getting her to fast. Fruit is her morning elixir, her coffee, and I simply cannot fathom how I will bypass our routine. Somehow we do.
And then it is the day, and I observe that we are en route to the hospital. It’s summer in Boston and early morning, my favorite time of day when the air is crisp and smells of vitality and possibility. We arrive, and stop at the hospital fish tank for her to marvel at the colors and patterns. For the next few days, we too are going to be living in somewhat of a tank; a bubble in time and space.
We go up and wait. I’d had my own bad experience with anesthesia as a child, with the associated loss of control, and I hope for her it will be smooth. We are very present, more than usual, drinking up the last few seconds with her before she gets wheeled away. She is chatting away and moving around, as always, as she converts the head of the hospital bed into her slide. “Will she ever be able to do this again? Will she retain her character and curiosity and innocence? Are they really about to wheel her away and cut her chest open? Is this happening?”
And then they do. She is in their hands. She is in the hands of G-d, as always, but now we feel this truth acutely. In the waiting room, I look out the big windows at the world that is beginning another “usual” day. But here inside, so many very different outcomes await so many very different people. A collective holding of breath takes place in this place, where people are privy to perspective on life, where they are not distracted by the non-truths many times we choose to focus on.
Before we know it, we are looking into the kind face of the surgeon, who comes out to let us know how it went. Thank G-d, well. We are on the other side.
The other side is a journey itself, from watching her turn blue as they pull her off life support later that same day, to keeping fully on top of her medication doses and vital signs, to just lying and being with her, to playing in the magical hospital playroom. We are blessed with nurses that are both professional and human, and the smoothest of experiences. Thank G-d, within days, we are in a cab out of there.
Fast forward three years. It is the anniversary itself, and we are heading to the beach to celebrate, a life affirming activity I think. But even on the day, I find myself frustrated by the length of our journey and various details around it and still find myself weighed down by the responsibility for my daughter’s well-being, as if it is in my hands, as if it ever was. I am impatient. I am not present. I am aware I am impatient and not present. I judge myself.
But later in the day as she sits facing forward on my lap on the train and we watch the fields roll by together, I say to her with feeling and conviction how much I love her. And, as I kiss her head and hold her tight, I let tears flow silently and steadfastly down my cheeks. Tears of appreciation, tears of love, tears of awe, tears of fears of not being a good enough mom and tears for not appreciating as I once resolved.
Oh, the challenge of life. We experience events that we take for granted instead of allowing them to infuse our lives with perspective and meaning. For example, I think about the many times I didn’t knock someone over while driving carelessly. I don’t even think about this, let alone hold it in my mind’s eye and mutter thank you and thank you again, especially when I find myself pre-occupying over things that don’t really count, when you get down to it.
I am sorry for the missed opportunities to live in constant gratitude since the surgery, but now is where I have power. When I catch myself feeling sorry for myself, or weighed down by life, as is inevitable, I intend to hone in the surgery, and choose to accept and absorb the valuable gifts within. I will mutter thank you and thank you again, and appreciate my daughter’s life anew, and life as a whole. Everything is okay (perfect, really). Thank you.