Today is Earth Day, but it is also my son, Michael’s, Surgery Day. This date makes my heart tighten for many reasons, and I want to share my story of how trauma’s power can be harnessed for strength, wisdom and a greater capacity to love.
Earth Day makes me grateful for my adversity.
I believe that nothing we endure or suffer is ever in vain. All adversity is part of “fighting the Good fight and running the race to completion.” But it doesn’t make it any easier to endure. What does cultivate my attitude for gratitude is this: What the world may consider pleasure may end up costing me my happiness; and by contrast, what the world considers painful may just be the best thing that ever happened to me. Michael’s story is like that. I believe that his Earth Day story is one that has not only provided me with a greater capacity for faith and love, but it is also doing the same for him, and will continue to throughout his life.
My Earth Day Story
On Michael’s Surgery Day, I will never forget the exact moment that my husband handed Michael over to the surgical team. We watched helplessly as one of the women in the surgical team carried him away. Our tiny son was draped over her shoulder, wearing a pediatric hospital gown that was far too big for his tiny body.
Michael was hugging this stranger and clutching his Snoopy and little blanket, sedated just barely enough so he would not be afraid of leaving us. My heart ached for him. I didn’t want to see him sedated. I didn’t want anyone to take him from me. I had waited my whole life to become a mother, overcoming the hopelessness and poverty of infertility to arrive at this moment, this heartbreaking moment that was shaping our collective future.
On Michael’s Surgery Day, I traveled to a place I had never been before. My heart painfully expanded and stretched my limits and knowledge about love. I knew that I could lose Michael, and my soul had to be ready for that, to trust in my Faith that told me, “whatever happens, you will get through this…”
On Michael’s Surgery Day, the waiting was the hardest part. I paced the hallway of the pediatric floor (It seemed unnatural to sit during those 5 hours that my baby’s heart was being operated on.) countless times. I prayed. I sang silently to myself. I practiced yogic breathing. I meditated. I waited.
Then something happened. Prayer and patience made me stop…and look up and out through a window. It was the fifth hour.
My mouth dropped and I motioned in frantic silence for my husband to come over and look. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
There, across a courtyard and through a bank of windows that opened onto a small hallway, was Michael’s tiny hospital bed, on the move. I knew it was Michael’s bed, it wasn’t a dream. How? Snoopy. I saw his Snoopy. His bed was surrounded by the surgical team and completely draped in white. And Snoopy, was there, on the outside of that drape, perched atop his bed. Hope blossomed in that very instant. Despite the shroud, I knew Michael was coming back to us, because the bed was connected to every line imaginable. And just like that, in an instant, his bed was out of my sight again.
But those few seconds were all I needed to give me more joy than I had ever felt in my life. The seams of my swollen heart tore and broke open. My legs tried to buckle under me and my heart felt like it was bleeding freely. But I felt more gratitude, more grace, and more love than ever in my life. I raised my head to the sky and thanked God for giving Michael a second chance at life. He was coming back to us.
On Michael’s Surgery Day, that glimpse was followed by a horrendous wait before we were finally allowed to see him. We were choking inside as we treaded down that pediatric ICU hallway. We stood in his ICU room, each holding one of his tiny hands, and stood vigil, while the ventilator, a chest tube draining blood and fluid from his heart and chest, and every arterial and vein line possible connected to his tiny 28 month old body kept him alive. My husband encouraged me to sing out loud to him, and so I sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey….” I kept singing as much as my voice, broken from holding back tears of joy and fear, would allow me. And in those silent moments, together, we were all healed.
Michael’s Surgery Day being on Earth Day was no accident. I am grateful for the many gifts that both of these remarkable days bring. While Michael is my firstborn son, immeasurably precious to me, this planet is a firstborn God-given gift to humanity.
Learning from Each Other, Learning from the Planet
Michael is now 8 years old. He is a healthy, thriving little boy that remembers his surgery day, and already appreciates the meaning behind it and earth day. As a physical therapist and mother, I teach Michael how to take special care of his heart that is now fragile from repair and afflicted with other birth defects. And at the same time, it is equally important that I teach him to caretake the planet in the same way as he cares for his own body.
Can we figure out a way to treat this planet as lovingly as we care for our own child?
When my son hurts, when he was so sick – just like our planet hurts and is so sick – our hearts should tighten and we should gasp for breath. We should move to act out of compassion and love to fix it, to nurture it, to help it grow. Like our children’s pain is also our pain – the pain of this earth should be ours too. Our hearts should burst at the seams – and yearn to love greater, our children and our Earth.
Our children, and this Earth, are a gift. As we love and protect our children from harm, we must love and protect planet earth. If we do not consider the planet precious, then how can we consider our children precious if we do not preserve the planet for them? When we recycle, we are loving our children, even if we have no biological children of our own.
When we buy less and repurpose more, you are demonstrating love. Earth is our only home and if we destroy it, we are heartlessly destroying our childrens’ future. The providential connection of Michael’s Surgery Day and Earth Day is no coincidence.
Let’s all do what Mother Teresa implored us to do “if you want world peace, go home and love your children.” Love your children. Love the Earth. The fragility of the earth and human life are interconnected and interdependent. Just 1 day – like Michael’s now lifesaving heart surgery – can make all the difference in the world.
Gratitude to ECU’s Heart Institute: I want to sincerely thank all the staff and surgical team at ECU’s Heart Institute and Pediatric Cardiology. Our experience there was one that exemplified partnership and collaborative respect during the course of Michael’s care. We were always invited to be active participants in his care, something that is all too rare in the biomedical health care system today.