Monday, May 12, 2008

The Butterfly Effect

Reporter Melissa Block’s NPR coverage today of the devastating earthquake in China was so poignantly horrific that, at least for this mom, it managed to translate the quake’s physical shock waves into crushing emotional ones, from half a world away.

The report tells of parents rushing to the Juyan Middle School after the quake, and hearing the voices of their children trapped in the rubble and unable to escape. Rescue workers had trouble accessing the remote area, and by the time the cranes had arrived many hours later to lift the massive slabs of collapsed masonry, many of their children’s voices had gone silent. Here is an excerpt:

Parents built makeshift shrines and placed the bodies of the dead on pieces of cardboard or plywood as they grieved over the small lifeless forms. Some lighted red candles or burned paper money to send children into the afterlife. Others set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. The grim ritual played out by dozens and dozens of families as they kept watch over their babies one last time.

I think it was that last line that started the tears flowing as I sat in traffic on the 405. One last time. It’s a phrase that resonates with me so deeply since becoming a parent that on occasions like this, I can barely speak it out loud without choking up.

As parents we don’t even dare contemplate outliving our children and so a ‘one last time’ like this one becomes unspeakable. But how many of the little bittersweet ‘one last times’ will there be for those of us blessed and lucky enough to nurture our children well into adulthood? A hundred? A thousand? A million? I suppose it depends on what you deem worthy of counting. One last jar of baby food, smeared on her giggling face? One last ride in the car seat? One last time holding your hand up the porch steps? One last “Mama” before you become “Mom?” Some of these occasions we’ll mark with photos, journal entries or, if we're lucky, crystal-clear visions seared into our memories. Others – probably most – will just slip into the past and one day we’ll wonder wistfully, “When did that stop?”

I can’t imagine the pain those parents in China are feeling tonight, and there is nothing I can type here that would help them feel any more at peace. My helpless heart aches deeply for them. But I did sneak an extra peek at Peapod tonight as she slept, and took a moment to listen to the miracle of her breath. Maybe this little entry will remind one other Mom to do the same.