Friday night, my granddaughter was born.
I was there. Standing bedside my gentle, soothing, coaxing son and my focused, determined, laboring daughter-in-law. Though I had the good fortune of being present at the births of my own children, I was, quite frankly, too distracted then, not to mention too inconveniently positioned, to watch.
So this was the first time I actually got to see a birth.
We were gathered - father, mother, nurse, doctor and four grandparents - in a very large room in a Catholic hospital. The room and entourage and all the necessary trappings felt over-sized given the particular task at hand: helping a tiny child come through an even tinier door in a process that has been repeated through untold generations.
About an hour before the birth, a woman’s voice came over the loudspeaker, kindly asking that we all join her in an evening prayer. Ancient spiritual urgings wrapped around shiny, cutting-edge technology. I don’t remember what she said but it was brief and sweet, and somewhat comforting. And welcome.
For labor is a moment – a long, stressful, dangerous moment – when mother and child stand at a threshold, many thresholds, and we can use the power of prayer and comfort.
During those heavy hours of labor, I was reminded of what it felt like to live in those liminal moments. To me, at least, it seems as if throughout the hours of labor the mother recedes a bit, slipping beyond the strict bounds of this world, reaching into that realm just beyond this one, the one that precedes this one, the place where the power and substance of life is stored. She is no longer fully here, and the space around her seems lit and spiced with air of ethereal otherness.
In those hours, is seems that the womb becomes an ante-chamber located in the mother but leading to a world beyond, to a place that is the source and storehouse of all life. Think of the closet doors in Monster, Inc. or the back of the armoire in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
It is as if the mother reaches into that place and plucks one soul, one body, one life from that divinely managed storehouse and urges and pushes it through this tiny door into our daily world of sun and socks and spaghetti and splinters.
Now I better understand the origins of the Jewish tradition that imagines that each soul is stored under the throne of God in a treasure chest of sorts, and that before a baby is born, God plucks a spirit chosen just for them from this heavenly horde of sacred souls.
And more. As we watched, I felt we were not just witnessing the unique birth of this precious child, but that we were also witnessing an echo of every birth that ever was in the long line of births that reaches back to a beginning that is lost from view, and will reach far ahead til it slips beyond time’s mysterious horizon.
So much was endowed in this one single bed, this one tiny child, this one remarkable act.
Truly a miracle.