Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ashes and Josefina

I got my ashes yesterday and so did everyone else in the family at different times and places... except for Josefina. She's still scared of the priest putting stuff on her head. We can't seem to convince her that it doesn't hurt.

It's ironic: this fragile little girl endured a lot of pain in her first year of life. It was seven months after her birth before she first breathed air outside of a hospital. Now she has all these diverse levels of growth and development as she continues to work through the consequences of those initial strange and dramatic circumstances.

Jojo and her Science Fair project
We were joking (not entirely) the other day about how Josefina is seven years old, but in her level of mental maturity she's more like a six year old; and then physically she's like a four year old, and socially she's like an eight year old or more! (Haha, it's so funny how she charms everybody, and how she can do a presentation -- even before grownups -- with such poise and confidence.)

Sometimes she just acts like a baby (of course).

Lately, she's getting better and better at reading, and sometimes when I listen to her I feel this overwhelming internal groaning sigh of relief and gratitude... and relief: Dear Lord, I'm so grateful that she's alive! It's like some stiff muscle deep inside me is slowly relaxing.


I guess I still have some "post-traumatic stress" over everything we went through with her, even after seven years. Most of the time, I don't even think of it. Josefina is just Josefina; she's our little hobbit. That first year all seems forgotten. But every so often something wells up in me, like I'm still unraveling all the tension that I wound up tight inside myself so I could get through those months.

It's so hard (in a very particular way for men, I think) to watch your child suffer and not be able to do anything about it. You stand there and the medical staff goes around and machines blink and beep, and your child is sedated and has tubes on her face and her body, and you can't do anything. You stand there and you feel like you might as well be a pile of dirt.

You feel helpless. You have emotions but (especially if you're a father and a man) you're probably confused about them and they don't even seem quite appropriate. The mother still has this obvious and aching (and sometimes tragic) connection to her baby. You have to support her, of course. And people help out, thank God, with keeping the rest of the family going.

You just want to drum up the energy to get everyone through it. Adrenaline, or (if you don't have much of that) sheer nerves are summoned to battle. You are going to do your best to clear away anything that interferes with the survival strategy. And human beings are astonishingly tenacious, and can do amazing things. But it takes its toll.

We are all returning unto dust, some more quickly, some more slowly.

Josefina has been closer to death, physically, than any of the rest of us. We kept trying to tell her that the ashes wouldn't hurt. But maybe she knows more than we do about the real significance of this gesture.

Or, more likely, she's just acting like a scared little kid (and she's just not past that stage of things, at least when it comes to stuff like a priest putting black dirt on her head). Or maybe it's some incomprehensible combination of unconscious, inaccessible infant trauma and the fact that she's still just a little tweety bird (and who knows what other factors, like genetics and personality, and...). We can't worry too much; we just have to do what we can to help her grow and learn step by step.

And the steps are worth taking, because no limitation is the final word -- about her or any of the rest of us. We may be returning to dust, but even now we know that we are being drawn forth anew from that very dust into an everlasting life.