It was clear to everyone at the hospital I was a mess. Because of indescribable back pain, I received an epidural before I was dilated past a centimeter, and therefore my labor progressed at a crippled and wayward snail’s pace. Sometime through the night, I began to shake uncontrollably and a wave of general anxiety overcame me, which I attributed to the drugs; but the nurse on duty said it was mental. The next day, my friends and family took turns rubbing my legs because after a day on an epidural my lower half felt irritatingly restless and paralyzed at the same time. One of the labor and delivery nurses struck up conversation with me, probably because she saw I was floundering. The more we talked, the more my labor picked up, and my dilation progressed. She seemed to recognize this, too, and felt a sense of ownership over her “project.” It began as chit chat, but at some point it became, as my friends kidded, unsurprisingly philosophical. And I don’t remember how, but it turned to Kierkegaard, as I blurted out to the nurse that during my pregnancy I had struggled with faith — a faith that everything in my pregnancy would be ok. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she said something exactly wise, and it implored my confession of a previous miscarriage – and that I would never know why it happened. That unanswerability undermined my willingness to “leap to faith,” even though I knew my faith, or lack thereof, had no bearing on how the Fates would knit together the outcome of my current pregnancy. Something so utterly close to me so as to be part of me, indeed sharing my blood, was outside of my control. This realization seared me like the pain that both rends and joins, and the nurse feeling her own limits looked out the window as I wiped a tear away. But she came back from her momentary distance and said, I bet you just reached the transition stage of labor – every woman I know has a revelation when she reaches the utmost extent of dilation. Exertion.
Over this past weekend in a light conversation with my studio mate, I threw around the word absurd to describe similar artworks from two artists, both who crochet and knit onto their treasured but precarious subjects. After hearing my studio mate’s response that she liked absurdity in art, I realized, despite my sophomoric passion for philosophy, that I was using the word unnecessarily in a negative way.
(Annette Messenger, “Les Repos de Pensionnaires,” aka “The Boarders.” 1971-72)
Both Camus and Kierkegaard philosophize about the absurdity that every human being faces – that we sense our life has some significance, some meaning; but as Camus put it, we are met with a cold, uncaring universe. We are saddled with the paradox that we are called to care with all of our might for the most vulnerable amongst us (especially ourselves) — yet we have in the end a limited bearing on what becomes of our fledglings. (And somehow an acceptance of this allows our circle of caring to expand.)
Yesterday my mother, my son and I reach the spot where from across my hometown reservoir, we could see the faint outline of a large, dark bird with a tell-tale, beacon of a white head and tail, perched on a dead pine. Nearby, we could barely make out a nest occupied by his mate, mid-story in a moss-laden pine. But the small smudge in our binoculars amounted to an extraordinary image in our minds. Thought never to emerge from the point of decimation by DDT, it is a nesting pair of bald eagles — the first in the Bay Area in 100 years. We joined a small group of other enthusiasts, all sharing an inexplicably warm communion as witnesses to this scene. Somehow we are the faithful because we know doubt, tragedy even. And it makes these little glimpses like this, of heart-warming good in the world, seem precious in this painfully but poetically absurd world.
Today’s Advice: “[D]oubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world.” Kierkegaard