Tuesday, June 1, 2010

what's in a name?

At work today, I was listening to Pandora and an Enya song came on. I haven't heard Enya for a long time, although I was into her music a lot about 10 years ago. It reminded me of a moment in my labor, near the end, about the time of transition. I was having a difficult time, getting that panicky urgent feeling that a lot of women get in transition. I didn't know that was what was happening, I just knew I needed it to be over. My doctor somehow got through to me, got me to relax and breathe some oxygen and settle down for a bit. Doula Jo asked "Enya or Nina Simone?" One word was about all I was capable of at that point, and I said "Nina", but she started the Enya CD anyway. It was totally fine - either was fine. But it made me think - that was about the last coherent word I said while Dora was still in my womb, before she finished her journey into this world. Did that last word somehow sink into her in a special way, leading her to use it as such a communicative force when she began to talk? After all, "nina" was basically the first word Dora ever used. It may be a name to most, but in Dora's world (and ours, by extension) it had meaning beyond a name. Did my utterance of the word nina at a moment when the entire universe stood still, at the precipice of the start of one life, at the intersection where I grew to become a new person while also losing a part of myself, somehow become the single most powerful and intimate word that could be said?

The strangest thing about this word - or name - is that, in my mind, I think this is not the first time of great transition in which this word has been spoken. I seem to recall that, when my mom was very ill, she would call out to us and say "nina". I remember asking her what it meant. I don't remember what she said in response. I didn't even really remember it until some time much later. Could I be remembering it correctly? I really don't know. But, if I am remembering it correctly, surely this means something. Does it mean that, through the great transitions of death and birth, there is some opening, some place through which communication is fluid and transcendent and elevated above simple conversation? Is there some way that the words my mother spoke at her moment of greatest transition flowed through me to my unborn child, to the spirit within Brian and I that would become Dora, to the baby in the clouds waiting to be born some 4 years later? It is almost too far-fetched and other-worldly to wrap my mind around, and yet it also seems entirely plausible.

I just got back from a road trip to visit my good friend Maria in Georgia. We spent most of the weekend on the "night-night rescue project", which was our attempt to mend Dora's blankie that Maria knitted for her before she was born. She loves, loves, loves that blanket now, and it's full of holes. If it disintegrates completely I'm not sure what we'll do - saving it is pretty critical. We knitted 15 or so little square patches that we sewed to the blanket, and Maria is making a few more for me to attach later. Then I'm going to sew some cotton onto the back to try to reinforce the thing. I think it's going to work. I hope it's going to.

We had a lovely but short visit. Dora was so totally off-schedule that she fell asleep immediately upon our departure, settling into a morning nap as if she were 6 months old instead of nearly 3. I took advantage of the silence in the car to listen to one of my favorite podcasts, the Moth. Included was a story by Roland Rocchiccioli about his experience caring for his mother at the end of her life. She died of liver cancer at age 94. Although their relationship had been tenuous, it was he who cared for her in the end, bathing her, taking her to doctor's appointments, lifting her dog onto the bed as she breathed her last, calling the priest for last rites. After she died, he sat with her body, chatting with her, watching the birds outside, trying to grasp what had just happened. He said, "she brought me in, and I took her out". I have never heard it said that way. He said that he realized that being with someone at their death is just about the most intimate experience two people can share, after which "you can never be ordinary again". I agree, and the only other moment as intimate is that of birth. When you are there to witness a person cross over the threshold between life and whatever lies before and after, it is as if the entire world stops. the universe stands still, all is quiet, and everything is waiting with baited breath for the transition to take place. Everything stands still to allow space for such a momentous occasion to occur. It is at those moments that we are our most human - most animal, even - and also our most spiritual. As Mr. Rocchiccioli said in his story, when someone dies, one second they are there and one second they are not. The life force leaving the body is palpable and obvious, the stethoscope against the chest isn't needed to know that the heart has stopped. The baby entering the world does so with a cry - a natural reflex to draw in life-giving breath, and a spiritual announcement - pronouncement - of their arrival.

As both birth and death can feel like tiptoeing along the edge of another dimension, a glimpse into something beyond what we know or understand, I don't think it's that wild to imagine that a word uttered in death might be breathed into a new life like the life-giving oxygen inhaled at birth. Perhaps that word said by my mom in her final hours hung in the universe around me, waiting to enter the world at the next opportunity, the next time that the space between life and the universe was minimized by so great a transition. Maybe I'm just looking for another connection that isn't there, another way to believe that on some level my beautiful girl and my beloved mother have crossed paths. Or maybe there really is a space in which all those who transition from or to this life are one. Either way, I know that I am blessed, honored, privileged, humbled beyond words to have been there for both of these momentous and life-changing transitions, the two most powerful and intimate moments of my life thus far.

1 comment:

  1. Very powerful post...thank you for sharing it with your readers!