The Problem–and Gift–of Perspective

Last weekend there was a baptism during Mass at church. A baby boy named Zachary was baptized, and we all clapped when his father held him up, head wet from the font.

I have a boy named Zachary. And this baby looked just like Zack did as a baby: fair with long legs and hardly any hair. All of a sudden I was thrown back in time to Zack’s baptism twenty years ago, to everything I was feeling and living then. My eyes filled with tears, thinking about my 6-foot-2 son being small enough to fit in my arms.

Our family, Christmas 1992

I went home and dug out our family picture from that year. Zack is our second child, born eighteen months after our daughter Michaela. When that picture was taken, I was still getting used to having two children, especially so close together—parenthood was still new and often awkward and scary. I had been a doctor for only a couple of years, so that was often awkward and scary too. I was working part-time and really struggling with balancing work with being a wife and mother; I had done some writing but didn’t think it would go anywhere.

There was no way I would have predicted that we would go on to have four more children—including one who was born disabled and died just after his first birthday, and a surprise baby born when I was 42. I wouldn’t have predicted the twists and turns my career would take—and definitely would not have guessed that I’d end up as much a writer as a doctor. Back then I couldn’t have pictured Michaela and Zack as kindergarteners, let alone college students. If you’d told me what would happen in our country and the world by Zack’s 20th birthday I would have said you were nuts—and I would have been very surprised if you’d told me I’d learn to sew and do flip turns and even real pushups. And if you’d tried to explain to me what it’s like to be married for twenty-three years, to build a life with someone and be unable to imagine living without him, I could never have understood.

Yet Zack’s baptism feels like yesterday—and I really don’t feel any different.

It’s easy, in the day-to-day travails of life, to feel stuck. Not just a little stuck, but very stuck.  As if you’re in some sort of infinite time loop, like in the movie Groundhog Day. Like when you have a new baby who wakes you all night, or a teenager who acts hateful, or a job that makes you crazy—it can seem completely clear that while time may be passing for other people, it’s not passing for you.

Sometimes it’s an illness—or the illness of someone you love—that puts you in that time loop. Sometimes it’s losing someone; those are very hard loops to be in. People tell you that it will get better, that this too shall pass. You want to believe them, and you know intellectually that time does pass—you write different dates on your checks, weekends always end, Christmas steals up on you—but in your heart time isn’t passing at all.

It can take moments like I had at that baptism to hit you up the side of the head and make you see that not only has time passed, but that you are wiser and better for it. Sometimes it takes looking at old pictures to really look at the people around you and realize that you aren’t stuck at all—that you, and everyone else, have been living and changing all along. While those doors were closing, windows were opening—and while there’s no guarantee you will get what you expect or what you want, blessings are always happening and life is full of possibilities.

And when you realize that, it can make you hopeful–maybe even excited to see what will happen next.

I know I am.

Our family, August 2012