Some stories are just so gut wrenchingly moving that you’d have to be a pretty hard-hearted sort not to be moved in the deepest parts of your humanity. The inspiring journey of one married couple illustrates what I’m talking about.
They had been married for a number of years, happily so, when they decided the time was right to try for a new addition to their family. It didn’t work out as well as had been hoped. Despite their best efforts they couldn’t conceive and a kind of debilitating sadness began to pervade their household. Things weren’t quite the same, as fate seemed to have robbed them of their chance for a future they had dreamed of.
And then the shocking news: she was pregnant. In an instant hope was restored and the future appeared to cough to life once again. They made their plans, figured out how to rearrange the space they lived in, and began preparing for the big day.
In what appeared to be some kind of cruel joke, a visit to her doctor revealed that something was clearly wrong with the emerging life inside of her. In fact, near the beginning of her second trimester it became clear the child would be born with significant challenges.
These are the moments of deep humanity, where the choices often are neither clear nor comforting. The couple spent sleepless nights in a shared restless spirit. And then a certain calm prevailed as they both realized they wanted the same thing. They would give the child every chance at a life, if possible. Even more significant, if the baby survived the birthing procedure they would make sure that the tiny life would never spend one second of its brief tenure unheld. It was a remarkable decision. More than that it was a human one that defied the jaundiced spirit of the age.
In the fullness of time the little life entered into the world and attempted to fill its lungs. It fought in desperation for its life and was successful – for a mere 16 days. An entire community had surrounded the couple – family, friends, neighbours, even strangers who had heard of the remarkable exploit. Not for one minute or one second did that little form suffer for love. It was held in loving arms for 384 hours, 23,040 minutes, or 1,382,400 seconds. It was a human endeavour absolutely remarkable in the telling and devoted to one little beating heart that eventually, as predicted, gave out.
I wept when I spoke to someone who had been involved in the story. I told it to my wife and a number of friends – they wept too. Everything about the saga seemed to be about physical limitation, fighting the impossible, and a guaranteed death, but that’s not why we all felt the depth of emotion. It was because a group of people together took on death, not to defeat it, but to transcend it – to rob it of its opportunity to kill all hope. In a loss of a dear life a small community of people found their own and transformed it. It will forever remain a testament to the persevering power of the human spirit.
In the next post I’ll tell about a similar kind of circumstance that altered my life, even though it involved a little child thousands of miles away from where I lived. It’s becoming clearer to me that in a pessimistic age, in a jaded time of living, that the chances increase that our humanity begins to decline. The story of that little life and its 16 days of adventure tugs at us all, yet it is repeated in so many similar ways thousands of times each day. Only such narratives take place on other continents, other places remote from our experiences and oftentimes away from our concern. The strength of true humanity is not that it is moved only by what’s close to it, but by the fates of humans facing similar circumstances in regions far afield from us.
Humanity could be described as the mix between the telescope and the microscope. Some judge things in life by those things that are the closest to them, while others take an expanded view, defining life in the broad strokes, the distant tugs. True humanity is a workable balance of these two essentials of the human spirit. We have progressed best when we have refused to pitch our tents in one camp or the other, but rather in an effective mix of the two. As a young person in Calgary, I grew up in a world of wonders far and near. Canada taught me that human responsibility didn’t stop at our borders.
Yet a materialistic age, unlike any other in history, has produced a new dimension separate from the telescope and microscope. Call it the “self-scope – we judge our world only by our own experiences, revealing our penchant for self-absorption to the exclusion of others in pain beyond us.
In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo stated, “Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?” The answer, of course, is both. But when my worldview is confined by my self-absorbed patterns of thought, I can weep at the fate of a sixteen day-old child and hardly consider the plight of those suffering in similar situations in a world far away from me. In exchanging the shorter and longer viewer for my “self” view, I cheapen humanity and leave extensive grief elsewhere ignored and unfelt.