Thursday, December 25, 2014 - Christmas Day

Advent 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014
Christmas Day


For God So Loved the World...

I gazed out of the third floor hospital window into the darkness, bleary-eyed, catching my own ghostly reflection in the glass.  The air in the L&D room was permeated with the intermingled scents of betadine and isopropanol.  Twin monitors beeped in syncopated rhythm, merged and yet separate - a sound I knew well from my life as a medical student.  My brain was conditioned to that sound.  Its metronomic regularity was inherently soothing, as relaxing as any lullaby, and it calmed my frayed nerves as I took a rare, quiet moment to watch the sun rising over Augusta.

That sunrise was glorious.

Perhaps my recollections are romanticized by circumstance. 

For most Augustans on that hazy summer morning, it was a sunrise like any other Georgia summer sunrise:  a rosy glow at the edge of the horizon, the rising cacophony of avian twitters and chirps as a chorus of birds greeted the dawn - and then, suddenly, the incandescent rays of the sun spilling over the edge of the world, driving the shadows into oblivion, bringing with it a new day, with new hopes and expectations.

My reflection faded with the coming of the dawn.  It was, indeed, a new day - my first day, in fact, as a father.

"Mark?" Daphne said behind me.

"I'm here," I said, turning back to her.

"I'm having another contraction."

I took my wife's hand in mine, squeezing it tight. 

Dr. Gerald Holzman, Daphne's OB/GYN, was dressed in scrubs.  An unruly shock of snow-white hair topped his head; his half-rimmed glasses had slipped down to the tip of his nose.  He was seated on a stool between Daphne's outstretched legs, eyes squinting, and he wiped the sweat from his brow with a towel as he positioned himself, peering at my wife over the drape.

"Okay, hon, it's time," he said.  "You're ten centimeters dilated and fully effaced.  This baby's coming.  So when I tell you to push, push.  Okay?"

Daphne nodded.

She had been in labor since before midnight.  And, like many things in life, it had been more complicated than one might expect.

They had turned us away the first time she had come in.  "Braxton-Hicks contractions," they had said.  "You're fine."  But then her water broke - and we hurried back to the hospital, frantic and anxious, worried about anything and everything.  There were other issues - the anesthesia residents were taking boards the next day, and the attending physicians were covering MCG Hospital by themselves, so Daphne never got the epidural she had been promised.  As a result, she experienced her first labor through a Demerol-induced fog - a long, groggy night of drug-induced somnolence punctuated by episodes of painful labor contractions.

And now, as the sun rose, we were at the end.

"Okay, PUSH!" the doctor said.

My son came into the world in that next moment - into the waiting hands of Dr. Holzman, who caught him as surely as Johnny Bench ever caught anything.  They swaddled him and wiped his mouth and nose and held him out to me. 

In that moment, I stared at Christopher Lawrence Murphy, blinking at the world for the very first time. 

He's blue, I thought.

I felt terror rising inside me like a tsunami.  It threatened to engulf me, to wash me away completely.

How will I be able to tell Daphne this? I thought.  I felt sick.   My heart ached - and then Christopher frowned, his eyes scrunching up as he balled up his tiny fists, and he cried.

There are few things in life as miraculous as that moment.  A single shuddering breath began my son's life, transforming him from the dreaded cyanotic color of death to the healthy pink hue of life in a single instant.

And that breath transformed me, as well.

At age 24, barely five years out of high school, I was a father.   No longer a callow, carefree youth, I was now responsible for the life of another.

It was an amazing revelation.

Daphne and I loved Christopher instantly.  He was our squalling little miracle - a brand new life, the product of our love for one another.  And we metamorphosed instantly into doting, fretful parents.  We did not have much back then, but we gave him everything we had.

In many ways, the love of a parent is love distilled to its purest essence - a reflection of God's love for all of us.  Parental love is unconditional; parents love their children simply because they are their children.  It a love built upon a foundation of forgiveness, for children cannot be held responsible for what they have not yet been taught.  It was only after I became a father that I truly began to understand the powerful and mysterious alchemy of love - and it was this comprehension, in turn, that made me understand the fact that love is, ultimately, about sacrifice.  Love makes us do things for others - and that self-sacrifice, in turn, takes us a few steps closer to God.  Love is as old as humanity itself.  It is the holiest of God's creations - the epoxy that binds us to one another, the resin that fills in the cracks in our fractured lives and fortifies us against the trials and tribulations of life. 

Love, indeed, makes us whole.

One last story:  When Christopher was a year and a half old, he suddenly became ill.  He was listless, with a high fever and a cough.  We took him to the ER in the middle of the night and found that he had bilateral pneumonia. 

For the next few sleep-deprived days, Daphne and I took turns nursing our young child through his first serious illness.  It was terrifying and exhausting, but we knew what had to be done - and we did it without question.

"Dear God," I prayed.  "Don't take our son."

Either of us would have given our own life to save him.

When Christopher recovered, I had a sudden epiphany - a lightning strike of comprehension, a crystallization of understanding about the nature of parental love.  I remembered all of the times when I was sick as a child; I recalled all of my own parents' sleepless nights.  And I was ashamed that I had taken them for granted.

I called my mother on the telephone to tell her that Christopher's fever had broken.  She was, of course, relieved.  But I had one more thing to tell her.

"Mama?" I said.

"Um hmm."

"You know I love you."

"Well, I love you, too," she said.

"I just wanted to tell you thanks," I said.

"For what?" she said.

"For everything.  You've always been there for me - when I was sick, when I needed something, when I was scared, when I was lonely, when I needed encouragement, or whatever.  You have sacrificed a lot for me.  And I'm sorry I never saw all of this before.  I get it now.  I really do.  And I just wanted to let you know that."

"Well, that's what parents do," she said.

I could tell she was crying.  I could even hear her sniffles through the telephone.

"Mama? Are you okay?"

"Oh, I'm fine," she said.  "This is just... this is the best thing anyone has ever said to me." 

We were both crying after that.

My mother died less than a month later.  I miss her to this day.  But I am eternally grateful for opportunity to tell her how much I appreciated all that she had done for me.  Having good parents made me the person I am today - and being a parent has taught me a great deal about the pure and unconditional nature of God's love for each of us.

I have been a son.  I have been a father.  And I am blessed to have experienced both - for those relationships, precious as they are, have given me a fleeting glimpse of the countenance of God.

 

-Mark Murphy

 

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