Sometimes I am startled out of my bubble. This morning, I couldn't sleep for some reason and found myself scrolling through Facebook at 5:30 in the morning. A photo drew me in unexpectedly, and I was caught in the world of Ava, a little girl fighting against leukemia. The pictures of the little girl's wide open smiles and her mother Esther's words of raw pain wrenched me in deeper and deeper until I found myself in a puddle of my own tears. I am reminded, as I wallow in my own issues sometimes, that there are others living through such unbearable pain. I know what a wreck I would be if such misfortune were to befall our family. The random thought of my children facing death even at the end of a full life fills me with sorrow at times, and to think that this family has been facing the spectre of death so abruptly, so mercilessly.
I'm a stranger to them. I'm miles away. Our only tenuous connections - we are fellow Koreans, both parents. But it's enough to fill my ears with the mother's pain. I hear her. And the weight of her loneliness is palpable. I wish I could do something for them. Offer to babysit their other children or cook some meals for them. Hold their hands. Give them a hug. Just sit with them. Let them know that we feel a sliver of their pain.
After reading Esther's posts, I heard my own children wake up. They staggered up the stairs, rubbing their eyes, T holding his ever reliable companion Beary, while S dragged herself up complaining that she was tired. Instead of responding with my usual impatience, I found myself giving them hugs and helping S get dressed, encouraging her with a promise of an M&M after breakfast. As S ate her breakfast of milk, toast, and prosciutto, I braided her hair. I carefully parted her hair to the side in the front and down the middle in the back. Then I tied one side before dividing the strands into three equal ropes. As my fingers wove in and out through my daughter's healthy, shiny hair, I thought of Esther who can no longer touch Eva's hair. As I worked on the other side, I thought of my daughter who will go to school and show off her little braids, jump a little extra higher to see them bounce, and who will want to loosen her braids to admire the curls before bed.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. I am reminded again and again. We become parents and we enter the realm of possibilities, vulnerabilities, unspeakable joys and chronic fear. Even though my own parenthood has been shielded from any meaningful challenges, I am anxious every day that something could happen to my children, that they could be taken away, by a misstep in the parking lot, a moment of carelessness, or an injection of a cruel unknown. And I see parents like Esther who face that real possibility. I ache for their big hearts and the love we all have for our children. Our dependence on them and our need for their permanence. Our desperate need to protect them at all costs and our inability to do so at times. We are at the mercy of chance, of the indifferent unknown. We can only hope to linger in a state of grace.