I watch footage of a devastated country, and these are my thoughts of default. They allow me to turn off the television and go on with my life. Because what else is there to do but go on?
I know, after all, that buildings will be rebuilt. Belongings will be replaced. Damage will be repaired. This is the inevitable character of crisis – it spurs renewal. It prompts regeneration.
The Lord doesn’t burden us with more than we aren’t able to carry. That’s what my grandmother said to me, after the ripples of my family’s recent little crisis had abated, and Craig and I were back home reconstructing the foundation of our adjusted normal.
She’s healthy. No reason to come back and see us. That’s what the pediatrician said to us, after Elle’s last visit. It had been two weeks since she’d been released from the hospital; and right around three weeks since complications from croup and Influenza A caused her airway to swell shut, necessitating an emergency intubation and middle-of-the-night flight to Denver.
Healthy. It’s such a good word to hear, especially after spending a week in a place dedicated to its opposite.
I stood at the entrance of the PICU (Pediatric ICU) at Children’s Hospital, on the day Craig and I were preparing to move with Elle into the less precarious confines of a regular hospital room. I waited for the nurse to recognize me, and buzz me through the heavy metal door. But she was busy talking to a couple, filling them in, business-like, on the rules and procedures at the PICU.
“So, you’ll need to fill out this ‘Admitted Visitors’ form,” she was saying, sliding a sheet of paper across the desk.
“Okay…” The father nodded, eager to accept this task. Eager for the normalcy of paperwork. Thick fingers, wrapping decisively around a pen. Tousled head, bending over a desk.
“And, the siblings?” The mother cleared her throat mid-sentence. Stooped shoulders, like she’d been punched in the stomach. Puffy, fearful eyes.
“None under twelve,” the nurse said. “Sorry, cold and flu season.”
I knew these people. They were us, three days ago. Stoically going through the motions, terrified.
I wanted to wrap my fingers around her forearm, press my fingertips into her warm skin. “I know how you feel,” my eyes would say. “You’ll be okay. Your baby – she’ll be okay.”
But I didn’t know these people. And I didn’t know if their baby was going to be okay.
The nurse looked up, and buzzed me through the door. Room #13 was on the way to Elle’s room, #17. I only saw the mounds made by their baby’s feet, smaller than Elle’s, motionless, tucked under a sheet. I looked away. Walked past all the other rooms to my own daughter’s, where my husband was loading the few belongings we’d accumulated during our stay into a little red wagon. We were moving on. In a few more days, we’d be going home.
We’re so lucky to have a kid well enough to go home. A kid well enough to be called “healthy.” So lucky to be able to move on with our life, in only a mildly amended iteration of normal.
And it’s times like these, when I lay awake wondering if the parents of the baby in #13 have also been able to move on, that I realize the aftermath of our recent little crisis still clings to me like a cloying perfume.
That night in the hospital, standing by as doctors worked to get my child to breathe, the walls of my existence trembled and swayed. Although I didn’t want to look, I watched as cracks cut like lightning bolts across my reality, letting in the light of a different existence beyond.
Those cracks remain. And once you’ve seen that light, streaming in at you from a place you don’t ever want to go, you realize how near to you that place truly is, every day. The walls of your existence are fragile.
I have only the smallest taste of the gut-churning anguish Japanese mothers and fathers face, days following the disaster that literally shook the foundations upon which they’ve built their homes, their lives, and their children’s futures. Our family’s recent little crisis came under the very best of circumstances. Our disaster was contained within our own little orb of turmoil. The cracks threatening to collapse the walls of my existence were, and still are, figurative.
The Japanese people will rebuild their cities. They will reconstruct their homes and replace the material things that washed away in that tremendous swell of devastation. That will be the easy part. Restoration of their spirit, however, will prove more difficult. I can’t wager a guess as to when parents in Japan will have a place to bring their children home to; or even when they’ll sleep peacefully again.
But what else can they do, but go on?
The sun, obstinate in its disregard of our humanly emotions, will rise again. And so will we.