Life is difficult to discern.
The mix of wonder and suffering is confusing. And there is so much put upon us, shaping our thinking and experiences. It’s hard to know where the outside influence stops and the inner prison begins. But every now and again, the paradox acts as a signpost of sorts, revealing the magnitude of being born into existence and parting therefrom.
When my first daughter was born, I was almost entirely focused on my wife. It was a long and hard labor and I just wanted to help her through in any way I could. My memories of the actual moment of birth are almost entirely of her face, of my love for her and the gratitude I feel for having been granted my wish to be a father.
And while I am immensely happy that we have been blessed with a second child, honestly, I would have been fine with just one. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to have another child too. But after years of attempts resulting in miscarriage, and an ectopic pregnancy that required surgery, greatly reducing our chances of conceiving, I was genuinely resigned to it not happening. I had asked the universe for something and I got what I asked for. And I don’t ask for much from the powers that be so to get this one was huge. No need to push my luck.
But this second birth ended up meaning something much more profound. Probably because it had less to do with me. I was considerably more involved than last time. We opted to go it without a doula, so I was holding one leg and in the full thick of it. But my wife was in her own world this time. I didn’t feel like she was looking to me in the same way as before. Which left to me to be more focused on the other thing that was happening. The bringing forth of life happening at the other end of the table.
As a professional yoga teacher, I almost never use the term: “Life Force.” It just feels too woo-woo or cheesy and triggers my revulsion for new-age fluff.
However, in attempting to describe the experience of witnessing my wife giving birth to our second child, I can think of no other term that fits more accurately. I observed what appeared to be waves of energy. That’s right, I said it: waves of energy. That is what the contractions looked like to me when I was staring in awe as they progressed in intensity over a course of undecipherable time. And when it got really intense, in those last rounds of pushes, it felt like the needed force came from somewhere beyond just the will of my wife.
She looked at me and said: “I can’t do it.”
And I said: “You don’t have to, it’s happening.”
The last few surges seemed to be fueled by a force far beyond a personal sense of self, from the heart of all that is and will ever exist. Only such a force can create a complex thinking feeling being out of a single cell of life and propel it through a ring of fire into the world around us. And what was abundantly clear in that moment of sheer and utter wonder was that this new being was the very force that brought it forth. That the little baby cannot be anything but that force. That you and I can not be anything but that force.
The next day I received a call from the cousin of a woman who has attended my class over the years. She called to tell me that a few month’s ago they discovered an aggressive brain tumor that was already at stage four. She has been deteriorating rapidly and was asking for me. She wanted to see me. I felt humbled and honored by the request but, I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised. It’s not like we were all that close. We’ve had a few heart-to-heart chats after class over the years but nothing particularly personal. And while I knew that she had good experiences and appreciated my class, I would not have ever expected her to call for me at this crucial time.
It was shocking. Only five months or so ago, I had seen her in passing at the center and she was the same fit and plucky Italian lady I had always known. Now, she was thin and paralyzed along the left side of her body. But, as I learned from observing her interact with her doctors, still plucky as ever. After joking around with some trivialities, she reached for my hand and drew me close:
“I never needed anyone or asked for anything from anyone in my life and now I am completely relying on others. It’s crazy. But you know what? There is so much love. I never saw it before. But it comes in chutes of blue.”
“Did you say ‘chutes of blue.’?”
“Yes. The love comes in chutes of blue.”
I have never known my friend to speak in such terms. Like me, she does not tend towards new-age type language. But she seemed utterly certain of her statement. She also wanted to tell me that the yoga she had learned was the “foundation of everything” and the only light that was getting her through this overwhelming time. I sat with her silently for a while before she fell asleep. I kissed her on the forehead and bid adieu. I managed to hold my tears until just after departing her room.
It was not just the immediate image of my friend so depleted and dying that filled me with sadness. I was struck by something bigger. By what seems to me a profound and tragic sense of low self-esteem that pervades the overwhelming majority of people I meet, across different cultures and socio-economic strata. How is it that we have come to so easily and readily devalue the profound experience and power of our own existence? And what needs to be done so that our efforts in life no longer overshadow our sense of life’s wonder?
I returned home to find my wife in joyful spirits. Her milk had finally come in and our new daughter was drunk full with satisfaction and contentment. I held her perfect in the palms of my hands.