My daughter is a young nurse. I'm suddenly every parent who has ever feared, and that's all that seems to matter now.
SoI am the father of a young adult who happens to be a hospital nurse. She's young; she graduated a year ago last Christmas. Suddenly, that’s really all that matters, the most fundamental part of my identity. I used to feel that I was multi-dimensional, a prism with many facets. Now, I’m more like a magnifying glass, as this single aspect of my life enlarges. This is what I think about most during the day. It is what I think about during much of the night. It is the overwhelming source of immense pride as well as almost boundless fear. It consumes all else. Every bit of news, every choice that anyone makes is all filtered through this.
I have been worried about my children before. That’s not new. It can be a difficult world and I’ve had plenty times for concern before now. Indeed, parenting in the 21st century means the reality of facing a great many fears and dangers.
But this is new. This is different. Dangers before were real, but vague. They were possible, but not this present. Before, it was like walking through a jungle full of possible, but unseen, peril.
Now, I feel like I’m standing on a hill above a beach, watching my daughter stand facing a tidal wave rolling in with agonizing slowness. We’ve all had the nightmare of not being able to move in the face of danger. This is somewhat like that, except that this time it’s the danger moving slowly. But it is still moving, and I can’t make it stop.
This feels like standing on a hill above a beach, watching her stand on the beach while a tidal wave comes. This feels like sending her off to war—without armor or even a helmet.
The strength and range of emotions I feel are impossible to describe fully. They are fiercely, viciously unique.
And yet, to many, many parents now and across the millennia, these emotions would be strikingly familiar. It's new for us, but it is not new. My fear, my anger, my resignation, my sadness, my pride in her—all of these things have been the common lot of human parents since the beginning. The uniquely personal nature of my emotions in this moment have brought me into communion with parents throughout history.
I now feel connected to every parent who has ever feared for a child’s life, every parent who felt resignation and rage that it has come to this. I feel connected to every parent who stood at the end of a line of questionable decisions made by others, lamenting that faraway choices brought real consequences for a loved one. I feel bound to those who have sent children to war, who have sent them on patrol, or who have feared that they would be in the wrong place at the wrong time, killed unjustly. Unfairly. Untimely. I am every parent who has fervently prayed, “Please, take me instead,” even as they were resigned to the reality that they could not necessarily make this happen.
I don’t know yet how this story ends. I don’t know if I will be the parent who weeps with sober joy that his child is spared, or if I will be the parent who carries a bitter ache for the rest of my life.
In a way, the answer is irrelevant, for this worldwide crisis is not about our family. And yet, to our family, it is very much about us. Thus the paradox of every family who has waited and feared. And so we wait. And go on, moving through life as if it's a dream, a familiar landscape now changed into something that seems very different. It's our new normal--just as it is for so many. Just as it always has been.
As I search for meaning in this time, this is what I hold to: every crisis is public and personal. Every tragedy, from shootings to hurricanes impact someone real, someone with feelings. Refugees, victims of violence and bigotry, targets of harassment--every tragic story on the news is really a mere cover blurb, a short synopsis about a powerful human tragedy, with a backstory and complex sequels that continue in the lives and hearts of individual humans.
My fear isn’t the same as yours because my circumstances are not the same. But if you are a parent, if you have ever feared, you are my sister or brother. We are comrades, having been in the same war, if not exactly the same foxhole or theater.
This is all the meaning I can muster right now: a greater sense of being connected to others, a more poignant appreciation for human suffering. I have feared for my child. You have feared for your child. In this there is ground for communion and human connection.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think understanding the suffering or fear of other parents through the ages is worth the price of my daughter’s life. If I had to choose, I would instantly choose her life. But that’s the point. It isn’t my choice, just as it hasn’t been for millions of others throughout life.
I believe—fervently—in God and a larger plan, and I am grateful for that. I draw comfort from that belief. And yet, it is somewhat like being starving and believing that a banquet is coming in a distant day.
For the moment, I find myself now seeing every issue through my child’s life and this has permanently shifted the way I see everything else.
There’s no silver lining right now, now chipper way to cheer myself. The only meaning I can find in this situation, the only positive choice I seem to have is to let this enlarge my heart to human suffering, to be more aware. I have always valued compassion, always tried to act upon it. It’s different now, though. There is a quiet sort of radicalization, too deep and too profound to be easily expressed.
The choice, the only real choice I have, is how I respond, how this shapes me. That is such a cliché, so thin, so worn that it has all the substance of tattered plastic wrap. And yet, it remains true. Cliches, after all, are what we often call someone else’s expression of an elemental human experience.
For now, the only meaning I can find is trying to being kinder and more gentle, more aware of others and quicker to see their suffering. There is great pain in feeling that your situation is anonymous, that no one cares. There is solace in feeling that other humans see you, that they appreciate your difficulty and hold you in their hearts and minds, even if they can do nothing to change the situation.
That seems tiny, and yet, it is sometimes everything, or at least the only thing we can do.
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