One of the most vivid of the moments still lodged in my ever-receding past is the moment you joined us here on earth. I replay it in my mind’s eye like a snippet of movie reel through the old Bell & Howell projector. A little bit grainy and blurry at spots, there’s some frayed sprocket holes that are a bit jittery, but it is intact, it is cinema verite, even these many years later.
I remember your apgar, I remember your weight. I remember how many inches from head to toe. I held you the second you were born, as the disconcerting birth-canal deformity of your tiny head morphed back into the perfect. I remember the exhausted relief of your mother, 13 hours large in the process that was you. I attended that birth, as I have every one since. If I were to pursue a career in obstetrics as you are, I have already completed half the residency requirement. But you were the first.
Did you know that I invented something as I watched you walk across the stage and receive your diploma, that blistering hot June day in Middlebury Vermont? As I sat waiting for your turn to collect your scrip, something amazing just popped into my head. It is at the patent office even now, a shuffle of paper waiting patiently in an impossibly deep pile, waiting for Sisyphus.
I can hardly express what went through my mind as I watched the Justice of the Peace give your hand to that boy. It would be a frivolous conceit to say that I gave you away that blistering hot June day in the matrimonial garden, that I lost you that day. No, I gave you up some years before. That moment was merely a shuffle of paper, a formality. But that doesn’t detract from the moment’s beauty, nor from my likely undeserved pride in you, in who you were at that moment.
You know, don’t you, that your mother has long forgiven me? More than that, she understands. She knows that it was right and we agree. That blistering hot June day in the superior court that it was done between us, was merely a shuffle of paper, a formality. Afterwards, we looked at each other like the day we met. With an irony so perfect as to burn sweet like raw sugar, she said “By the way…Happy Anniversary.” We hugged with an intimacy and love that we’d not known for years, and she got in her car, and I got in my car, and the horizon was there waiting patiently at the edge of the parking lot, our respective compasses pointing to disparate north stars.
But the world is a tidy world, and good has evil, and right has wrong, and wrong has fault, and fault has blame.
In the tidy world of a child, nay the pure world of a child, those colors don’t mix.
If science proves anything for us, It proves, with ever-increasing precision that contrary to God’s love, the world…the physical world…doesn’t prefer us and might even want us to fuck up. Life is about stumbling from one fuck-up to the next; managing somehow moment-to-moment to avoid becoming a lumpy, reddish smear of mucous on some coarse pavement somewhere. In that world “tidy” is vaguely quaint, a simplification of assumptions that allows us to dispense with untidy variables as if they mean nothing. As if they’re just rounding error and don’t mean a god-damn thing.
I want to give you, tell you something. This is not a something that I pulled out of thin air, some more of the inchoate unsubstantial ramblings that impatient those who humor me, this is a something that I took from the universe, uninvited. This is stolen knowledge. I want to tell you about your future.
You, who are a mere 9 months give or take from being reborn into this world as “Doctor.” You who once decided that fault was fault, and blame was blame, and civil disengagement was the requisite engagement. Practiced civility with a septic aroma, like something forgotten and moist in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, hiding behind the big pickle jar. Polite, in it’s ineffable way.
I would like to introduce you to one of your future colleagues. His name is Michael, or Azrael, or whatever nom de plume suits the whim of an Archangel of Death one moment or the next. He’s an acquaintance of mine and I’ve asked him to keep a weather eye out for you.
He is a good enough guy, for an Archangel. Unassuming, deferential. Not an impetuous type. All Doctors come to know him eventually. Some know him well. The good ones certainly do. The bad doctors seem to have never made his acquaintance, though they’ve crossed paths with him so many times.
There will be those times when you will stand in the surgical theatre, instruments in hand, elbows-deep into the defining moment of someone else’s life. Your colleague Death will politely whisper in your ear a melodious sing-song, “good show, good work, looks about right, I’ll take it from here.”
And there will be nothing you can do but step aside and defer to his far greater experience.
There will be times also, that he will enter the theatre unannounced, rubbing sleep from his eyes of infinite depth asking “Who summoned me here? This was not in my lists today.”
That is a day you will dread, a moment you should loathe. What are you, after all? A goal-keep against the gates of Hell, or the ticket vendor for the ride? On that day you will go home, you will look with infinite, empty eyes at that boy-now-man I gave you to, and you will not have anything to give to him. I don’t know him well enough to know whether he can refill your hollowed-out soul. I hope so. But I do know that I can. At that moment when you need wrong to have fault and fault to have blame, I can. My shoulders are broad and well-rehearsed.
I know of which I speak. After all, for all the births that I have attended like yours there were those in which my acquaintance Asrael was midwife. Things I’ve never told you, nor ever will. My shoulders are broad and well-rehearsed.
It’s a black-and-white problem isn’t it? They’re sick, you’re the Healer. But in this world, my love, those colors mix. When those who have placed their trust in you are ushered to the wrong platform, sent on the wrong train. There will be fault, and there will be blame. And all the colors run together in a messy gray puddle. That puddle is where the real world lives.
But you will be one of the good ones. One of the healers. One of those who frustrate death more often than not. For you, there is a fix. It’s unwieldy, unpredictable. An untidy color. It is a grindstone attacking the scythe at oblique angle, blunting instead of sharpening it. It is the only tool you can possess that Azrael cannot. I can give you that, when you’re ready to ask for it. I’ve been holding on to it for you. I’ll be right here waiting, on some blistering hot June day, next to Sisyphus.