January 4, 1993 was a rough day in my life.
During the wee hours of the night, my fourth pregnancy came to an abrupt end with a miscarriage of my eighteen-weeks-along unborn son.
Like every mother who loses a baby-to-be, I was devastated. And you know, to be honest, I felt particularly robbed because, with three darling daughters already under my belt, I considered myself a tried-and-true baby maker. Three times over, my body had proven itself to be a proper champ at conceiving new life, providing forty plus weeks of prime growing conditions, and then birthing healthy and nearly perfect babies. Suddenly, I had a very somber reason to doubt my body's ability to deliver my much-dreamed-of fourth child, and I felt like my picture-perfect life was suddenly falling apart.
Dramatic, I know. But that's what miscarriage felt like to me - an inexplicable failure of my body, an end to my hopes and dreams, and an event that was painfully rewriting the script of my life.
Later I learned that my understanding of miscarriage was wrong in several ways. A mother's body somehow knows when a fetus is not viable, and seems to have a way of protecting its resources by stopping the development of one child, and conserving its energies for the next. Far from a failure, miscarriage can be considered a healthy form of natural self-regulation and one at which we might marvel. The vast majority of women who suffer one miscarriage go on to carry other children to full term, and the historic rate of one miscarriage per four pregnancies lines up exactly with my track record. What I got right about miscarriage though, is that it stirs up deep and complex emotions, and we who experience miscarriage must carry a special respect for our grief, as our culture often does not.
* * * * *
We drove home from the hospital as the sun was coming up, and I was faced with the challenge of getting through the first day. We told our three little girls our sad news, which they readily grasped and sweetly grieved before settling in for a busy morning of playing at home. I found myself straightening up the family room bookshelves, trying to distract myself even for an instant from not just my grief, but my misery and despair.
What happened next is something that to this day, I cannot explain. As I pulled a stack of catalogs off the shelf and attacked with my dust cloth, I discovered a small pink card. The back side was mysteriously blank but when I turned it over, I found written in soft blue flowing script this simple verse:
I salute you!
There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present instant. Take Peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take Joy.
And so at this time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
* * * * *
I cannot explain where this card came from. It wasn't a postcard or a greeting card or a mailer, or a marketing piece from one of the catalogs. I'd never seen in before in my life.
But this I know for sure; in the instant that I read these words, my life changed.
I felt - no, I knew without a doubt - that this card, this verse, these beautiful words had somehow been placed here in my bookcase for me to find on this particular morning, when Heaven and Peace and Joy seemed very far away indeed.
And I understood, deep down in my aching soul, exactly what Fra Giovanni was getting at.
He wasn't asking me to deny my emotions. He was encouraging me to move past them.
He wasn't promising that the world would always be kind to me. He was reminding me that there's more to life than just this world.
He wasn't telling me that it would be easy to move past my pain. He was promising that I could do it if I would only try, and no one else could do it for me.
This is not to say that my grief disappeared, I got up and danced around the room, and never felt sad again, the end.
Of course it didn't happen like that.
But my old attitudes toward pain, misery, despair and grief popped like bursting bubbles, and a new awareness filled my broken heart.
I knew, and I still know to this day, that I always have a choice.
I can take Heaven.
I can take Peace.
And I can take Joy
Any time I want.
This gift has become especially precious to me in these wild Covid days. The world is slippery under our feet as we try our best to skate across the thin ice, and the resulting anxiety runs rampant.
Here, there, and everywhere, I see people struggling with
inability to make decisions,
and just straight fearfulness
Sometimes, I just want to sit down and cry for everyone who is struggling. All of us.
But Fra Giovanni still whispers in my ear
There is much you can take...
Peace is hidden in the present instant...
The gloom of the world is but a shadow...
And even though every day I have to remind myself and begin again, that is exactly what I am choosing to do.