When the “fasten seatbelt” alert goes off in the car, but I’m buckled up and alone, I consider the possibility that someone in spirit who loves me has come along for the ride.
You never know.
I tell the little red icon-person displayed on the dashboard, hey, thanks for coming, because I know there is magic in thanking the universe for everything, seen and unseen, both delightful and disastrous.
This is the story of how I learned that.
I had been dreading, with a good deal of terror actually, a medical procedure scheduled for a late Friday afternoon in downtown Annapolis. My son and oldest daughter were 3 and 5 years old at the time, so my mother was going to have to babysit in order for me to meet their father at the ob/gyn’s office. He planned to leave work early, having offered to hold my hand.
The procedure is often done in a hospital, but I’d opted for local anesthesia in the doctor’s office instead. (Remember the now-debunked advice of my youth? Doing anything the hardest way possible will make you a better person…).
Mom arrived right on time and engaged the kids with Legos and art supplies while I slipped upstairs to gather my mental resources in the few minutes before I had to leave. I was looking for my blue cardigan when the phone rang.
To my dismay, my doctor’s office was on the line canceling the appointment. After waiting for weeks in fear and dread and minutes from having the ordeal over with, another patient was in labor and experiencing unforeseen complications. My doctor couldn’t leave the other mother.
I sank onto the bed, the weight of my disappointment causing it to sag even further beneath me. I could hear my mother talking to the kids, their soft, lilting responses floating up the stairs. My husband had already left for the doctor’s office; there was no way to stop him now, and I would have to carry the burden of apprehension indefinitely.
I pulled my feet up onto the bed to sit there cross-legged for a moment, not quite ready to release Mom from her duties nor to have to make conversation. We had wallpapered our bedroom with navy blue paper covered in white peonies with touches of pink and pale gray—copying a room we had loved at an inn in Bar Harbor. Struggling to regain my equanimity and held in the safety of a happy memory, I thought, I have never said thank you for a loss before. I have never blessed a problem. I have never said thank you for this thing I don’t want. I normally thank the universe for this but not that.
What if I were to be grateful for all of it?
And so, I got up, closed the door, climbed back onto the bed’s white spread, and said, Thank you for this fear, this setback, this delay. I’m not asking you to fix it. I’m asking you to be in it with me. To come along for the ride.
I imagined the other mother struggling to give birth and sent her goodwill. Maybe it was her first time. I remembered what it is like to be told to push when you have no pushes left, and pushing again is an unreasonable request, a terrible idea. You are for sure going to irreparably break something if you follow that order one…more… time…. but in blind trust you choose to believe that the person telling you to do the thing that hurts most sees a bigger picture than you do. So, you push in spite of your better judgment, and they give you a baby for it.
I sent that mother strength and stamina, and I said thank you God, for her and her little troublemaker. I thanked the universe for my disappointment. I imagined my doctor being totally present in the delivery room and sent her a silent blessing. And I said, thank you God for this awful unknown mess of rescheduling. Then I headed downstairs to tell my mom I didn’t need her to babysit after all.
And the phone rang.
“Hold up!” the doctor’s receptionist said. “Things have come suddenly right. The baby is here, and the doctor knows how much you have feared this procedure. Even though it’s now 5 p.m. on a Friday, and the office is closed, she’s going to meet you there anyway to get it done. Everyone else will have gone home, so the building will appear empty, but come in anyway.”
You might think this is the end of the story, but it’s only the end of the beginning.
The entire building was as still as a held breath. The carpeted outer office was silent and dark, magazines straightened. My doctor was going to perform the procedure with an innovative instrument she’d never used before, and a 10-year-old salesboy planned to be in the room to supervise its use. Upon discovering this, I pulled the nurse aside and told her the ten-year-old salesboy could absolutely not be in the room with me, and to my relief, my request for privacy was honored, and he was dispatched. Now assembled in the exam room, only my husband, myself, my doctor, and the nurse.
And yet, if we had been in a car, the indicator light might have been flashing, might have claimed there was another presence unaccounted for in the room that night.
As I lay back, concentrating on the design in the ceiling tiles, bracing for “discomfort,” the moment the doctor touched me, the entire room turned pink. The shift in the light was remarkable and distinctive. Maybe fear itself can induce an altered state of consciousness because when the light transformed from white to rose, instead of feeling pain, I saw love physically materialize as a visible spark.
A tiny bead of light appeared in front of the doctor at the level of her heart and flew among those of us gathered there—I saw it fly from the doctor to my husband, then dash from him to me, from me to the nurse, back to the doctor, to my husband, to me again, flying about the room, ricocheting from one to another, a photon, an orb, and I suddenly knew that sparking light represented the only thing real in the room, the only thing real in the galaxy, in the universe.
When everything else falls away, and it will—when there is no more exam table, office to hold it, planet on which it rests held in the arms of a spiraling galaxy–when the memory of your own name has disappeared into time, and it will— you will see what in fact, is already true. The essence of existence is only unconditional love.
Sometimes, you get to experience this reality, just for a moment, in the here and now. In the hear-now. And for that, I am so grateful–grateful for the gift of this messy life, this confusing place, for what is given then taken away. For what doesn’t work out. Though this is difficult to comprehend, I am telling you what I know for sure.
In the fullness of time, everything is holy. In the fullness of time, everything comes right.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.