On a trip to the East Coast, I had the pleasure of going to a midwife’s appointment with my pregnant daughter and her husband. It’s my first grandchild, so everything is a big deal to me.
The amplified heartbeat brought a tear to my eye. The midwife was sweet enough to ask whether I had any questions. I did not, at least any I could expect her to answer.
When we had first arrived on the seventh floor of the medical building, we sat in the waiting area where huge windows displayed a sun-filled morning in the city below. But we noticed a bevy of police cars and ambulances a few blocks down the street. That location, my son-in-law said, is the first commuter train stop on the way into town once you cross the bridge.
Had someone grown ill on the train? A heart attack? Perhaps a fight or disturbance?
But soon, we were called into my daughter’s appointment and the scene at the train station was forgotten. Only later did we learn that someone had jumped in front of a train that morning. I had been preoccupied with the imminent arrival of new life. Below us, someone was ending a life out of despair.
That visit to the doctor’s office will always hold those memories in hazy juxtaposition. The sunny day, the fresh faces of pregnant women all around us in the waiting area, the excitement of a baby on the way, yet a reminder of the world’s harsh reality and sorrow in the city beyond.
The evangelist Billy Graham recounts the answer he gave to a questioner: “‘What is the greatest surprise you have found about life?’ a university student asked me several years ago. ‘The brevity of it,’ I replied without hesitation.”
The older we grow, the more I think we can identify with Graham’s response. Life is short. I believe it’s a surprise we’ll all admit to if we live long enough.
But on my trip, one filled with visiting relatives of all ages, as well as one yet unborn, I think I found a corollary to that response. What surprises me about life, along with its brevity, is the amazing organic nature of it, the constant change.
As a child, eternity seemed to pass by from birthday to birthday. Even as a young mother, the days of diapers and lunchboxes seemed endless. I knew they were finite, but it was hard to envision a time when they would not be my reality.
Now it strikes me how each of those days was filled with change, how a new reality was constantly emerging.
Mary Oliver, in her poem “Praying,” advises us to “pay attention.”
If we pay attention, we become aware of movement. The birth of a baby changes the family dynamic in nine months. But that dynamic is always slowly in flux. Pay attention. Each day holds nearly imperceptible change.
St. Ignatius of Loyola urges us to spend time daily examining the day we just lived. It’s not just examining our faults. This examination is about our emotions, how we felt, what called to us, what disappointed us, where we disappointed ourselves and others, where we found joy. Ignatius wants us to pay attention to God’s movement in our lives and our response to God.
I said a prayer for the person whose life ended that sunny fall day. I wish someone could have convinced him that where there is life, there is constant change and always hope.