lo, the winter is past
Last year our March, according to the average temperature, was actually the coldest month of winter. This year it has come back in an unrecognizable form, as if it decided to switch its allegiance to spring and be forward-thinking. We have had some beautiful days lately– sparkling, unbelievable for March in South Bend. Yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day, was the best so far. We went walking in short sleeves; we stayed outside for hours. We didn’t have to put our sweaters and jackets back on until the sun began its final descent.
For me the day simply oozed with traditional connotations of St. Patrick’s Day, which is to say, it felt charmed, lucky, merry, blessed, lighthearted, persisting in green upon green, then ending in hues of gold.
I’ve never experienced a St. Patrick’s Days which so predictably conformed to leprechaun-friendly, four-leaf clover stereotypes. Instead, my experience of St. Patrick’s Day is that of a late-winter pseudo-holiday which, like its lame February cousin Valentine’s Day, takes a stab at an unpopular calendar month, trying to puncture the dreariness and thus provide some distraction during the long interval between the first-rate festivities of Christmas and Easter. School rooms, beauty shops, and dry cleaners pin up some dreary pre-cut paper decals of hearts and clovers in an effort splash a bit color at an unflinching facade of gray. Couples try really hard to enact romance; bar patrons try really hard to re-construct some iconic ideal of Irish pub merriment. The terrestrial remains terrestrial and accentuates human powerlessness against winter’s longevity. All the candy hearts, thematic cupcakes, green beer, and green rivers of our towns and cities are not muscular enough to float the weight of a single human soul upward.
Well, I exaggerate. But my point is that my personal experience has conditioned me to temper expectations and distrust the approach of these holidays. I do not make plans for them, nor do I expect them to be remotely inspiring. Instead it has become habitual in me to ignore them and treat them as supra-ordinary. Jeff and I totally forgot about Valentine’s Day this year until the day was almost over, at which point we barely so much as tipped our hat to it. That was my idea of a very successful Valentine’s Day.
So, my doctor’s appointment yesterday was naturally dominating my thoughts more than any official notation in my date book that it was St. Patrick’s Day. As far as I was concerned, this appointment could not get here quickly enough. This is because, in the few days preceding, I really felt as if this baby had turned head down, and I was on edge hoping that an ultrasound would confirm that this was so. My morning was spent at home watching Esme and her best friend Lukas–both of them about twenty times more rambunctious than usual. Or it may have been that I felt twenty times less comfortable than usual, a large, unwieldy, short-tempered pregnant woman, uncomfortably full-bladdered, red-faced on the windy playground, unable to read even a paragraph of my novel due to snack and sippy cup requests. It took all my resources to herd the two of them out to the playground, then back in, up and down the stairs, later cleaning up Esme’s potty training playground mishap (the worst kind), and finally wiping copious amounts of lunch off their hands and faces, nevermind the sploshes of yogurt on the floor. The moment when I would break away to go to this appointment lay just beyond the moment when Lukas would go home and Esme would go down for her nap. The promise of this moment did not make the morning seem shorter. Jeff would come home to take over and I would mercifully make my exit and drive away in a bubble of Personal Space.
When the appointment finally came, it happened almost too quickly after all the waiting. Without any ostensible delays, (although I almost was delayed by Esme deciding to resist her nap and throw a hysterical fit at my departure) I found out about the baby. It was head down. It suddenly was, so simply, true. The very fact of it sent me home in a cloud-car. All the anxiety, emotion, and fatalistic musings of last week came to weigh less than a cloud. This baby had turned, and would not likely turn back, and that was the simple truth. There were no other solutions required or decisions to be made about an external cephalic version. The pending notion of a scheduled c-section was promptly removed from the table by my busy doctor before he moved on to his next thing. I left the office with only the sparkling afternoon of an unexpectedly beautiful St. Patrick’s Day before me. I was surprised to find myself subscribing to the feeling that, in fact, it was a holiday.
In the end, my friend and I decided to walk to Notre Dame, corral our husbands respectively, then eat outdoors at one of our favorite spots on campus. These were not very illustrious plans involving live Celtic music, imported beer, or corned beef, but I didn’t care. The day was so beautiful. Esme’s hair was a wild, tangled yellow mane, blowing in all directions like a royal flag as she ran around in squirrel patterns in the sunshine. I didn’t care if all we were doing at one point was sitting outside the library on a stone wall amidst air that was remarkable for its freshness and civility toward the range of human temperature tolerance. I was in sandals, short sleeves, and carrying an almost full-term baby who was (and still is) properly situated for her birth– all utterly remarkable and unanticipated realities whose very realities were sufficiently marvelous to hold me in a state of composed passion for this day and my existence within it. Undergrad students, exiting their classes and streaming by in clusters here and there, were invariably in bright kelly green, some with died green hair, green mardi gras beads, green top hats, tights, or clover-patterned bobby socks. St. Patrick’s Day outlandishness probably may only happen in such a degree at a university whose mascot is the fighting Irishman, and part of me always rolls my eyes at this, but yesterday it only served to increase my sense that I was swimming in a particular kind of day, in which earthly hopes and pleasures were allowable, indulged, even freely granted.
I suppose I believe in the possibility of such a day (this feeling tends to come each year in some form at Pascha, for example), but I never actually expect it, and certainly not on St. Patrick’s Day because it is St. Patrick’s Day. I suppose I also believe that things can come to us that are shaped in the precise shape of our fears, and thus designed to displace them absolutely. But I never genuinely expect that either. I certainly would not expect all of the above on March 17, any given year.
Last week, in my situation, I knew I needed to pray. I thought about praying that the baby would turn downward, but that didn’t seem right. Instead, one night in my sleepless worry, I did pray that God would simply be with us in the birth of this child, whatever “kind” of birth it turned out to be. I burrowed into my heart and found the capacity to be stubborn with God. I would stubbornly insist on believing that, even if the birth were the kind most seemingly managed, scheduled, and acted upon by human will and planning (a scheduled c-section), I would stubbornly believe that the date and time were chosen by God, and that his action would be at work in, with, and through this event of our little human family. I have always felt a certain disappointment and horror at the idea that my child’s birthday could be pre-selected according to the convenience of a doctor’s schedule. But I decided, in praying, that I would refuse to see things that way. It would be a stubborn, hard-headed, impossible interpretation of events, that others would find kooky, I think, but it appealed to me as correct, and, feeling my way in the dark, I think that it was the only possible prayer to pray. It was the only possible faith.
I remember my grandmother, who struggled for years with a chronic headache which would never fully lift, told me that one day, at my sister’s birthday party at a pizza restaurant, her headache suddenly lifted without explanation, and she felt for the first time in years what it was like to not have a headache and simply enjoy a moment of life free of that burden. It came back eventually, but she interpreted the moment as a sign to herself of what it would be like to one day have all of our burdens lifted, so easily and completely after they have harassed us for years with their unbreakable yoke. She said is was a silly and humble moment for it to happen– at a child’s pizza party– but from the way she talked about it I could tell that she regarded the moment as an instance of God’s action in her life, and she held onto it as such.
I know at this point in my pregnancy that anything still could happen, and having the baby turn downward is no guarantee of anything. Pregnancy and childbirth are, in themselves, inherently fragile and crazy endeavors. But I do believe that God is acting among us, in us, behind us, and with us (something like what it says in the Shield of St. Patrick) and that this particular winter is pretty much over.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Song of Solomon 2:11-13