I walked into the house with my sister already in the shower, pounding her feet on the floor and moaning a little bit. She had alerted me to the fact that her contractions were starting around 11. By the time I got there after school we needed another coping mechanism. So I did what worked for me, what worked for my friend earlier that month. We counted. Starting at one we counted until the contractions were over. 2…3…4…5… sometimes we made it until 60, sometimes to 100 only to start over until the wave of pain was over. We counted from 5 when I got there to after midnight when it was time to push.
It is tiring to stand next to someone and help them birth a baby, remind them that their pain is temporary and normal. It is draining to stand next to someone and hold their concentration with yours. But it is totally worth it, to get to be there to witness the very first glimpses of a life.
I was visibly tired at church on Sunday. I’ve been carrying my friend’s burden. I didn’t know I could have community, real community with people I have not yet met. But this woman who I love, she was promised joy and it was replaced with sorrow. More waiting, more hoping, more not yet. Again. My husband asks me what is wrong and we talk about how messy this world can be, how someones yes is so often the bitter no to another, how hard it is to sit in the ashes and wait for the beauty to grow into it, how I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. I love her, even if it is hard, it is a privilege to help hoist this burden even for a moment, across the country, over the internet.
Marking the time with someone, letting them know you are there. We don’t know how long it will last, but we are keeping track for you. Somehow the counting makes you feel less abandoned in the pain, it lets you ride from on top of the crest, and not underneath. It still hurts, maybe even as much, but it helps somehow to mark the pain, count the moments.
I was in a wedding this last weekend. There were bells and flower girls who behaved beautifully, and ring bearers who were just ornery enough to evoke an audible awwww from the guests. There were 5 other bridesmaids holding a beaded beauty high enough that the bride could step in and let the dress float down around her.
That dress, it held a story of its own. It was bought while planning a wedding six years prior, and after the ring was returned and the tears had dried, the bride told me she may not have found the man, but she knew she had found the dress. 22-year-old bodies and 28-year-old bodies are simply not the same. Even if the numbers on the scale were the same, the zipper wouldn’t budge, so a master seamstress doubling as a good friends mother put in a series of ribbon woven into the back and around the last button, and the dress was more beautiful than before. New panel, new story, a little more complicated, completely breath-taking.
We marked a lot of time in those six years, a major move and two babies for me, a trip to Hawaii, a summer in NYC, and a graduate degree for her, six schools between us. Countless cell phone minutes on our separate commutes, a hundred times I told her I would call her back and didn’t, answering my phone with a crap I am so sorry. But I did answer the text, “how soon is too soon to get engaged,” it seems fitting that I was literally in labor with my second.
I was not the only one to have marked time with this friend. She gives herself easily, and many had been rooting for this happiness for a very long time, counting the days with her. As they danced their first dance I looked around the room to see people who were overjoyed to be able to celebrate the first glimpses of their new life together.
I want to wrap this up in a neat and perfect bow. To promise to count with my friend until that joyful bundle finally arrives in her arms, to pledge to answer my phone when my single friend calls, to mark the days with her as our other friends change their facebook statuses to “engaged.” But isn’t that the scariest thing about these hopes and dreams we have? What if it never comes?It is so hard sometimes to believe in the ressurection in our own lives.
I no longer have the answer for those questions. I have learned the hard way to stop talking so much. You feel a wave of pain coming, just keep breathing. 1….2…3…4…If we get to 100 we will start again, and I will consider it a privilege to bear witness to it all.