We not only care for our children because we love them, but we also love our children because we care for them. The process of taking care of our children is in fact immensely bonding. Our experience of difficulty altogether is where we come to know ourselves.
~ Andrew Solomon
Writer Andrew Solomon has a TED talk called Love, no matter what. It’s my favorite TED talk ever, at least a dozen of its 3 million + views are mine. I first listened to it two and a half years ago, during a drive across three state lines with my baby boy sleeping in his carseat in the back of our packed car – we were driving behind my husband’s car, headed to our new home in a new city.
The description of his talk on the TED website reads: “What is it like to raise a child who’s different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)? In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents — asking them: What’s the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?”
I cried as I listened, thinking of Tikva, my daughter who had lived such a short but powerful life. I thought about how, in the 58 days she lived, she taught me my greatest lesson; she taught me about unconditional love and unconditional acceptance. Because I had only to love her as she was, for as much or as little time as I would have with her. Because I had to completely surrender every idea I had had about what she would become, how she would grow up, even that she might survive more than 58 days.
All Tikva needed was my love, pure and present. Unattached. Relinquishing any idea of being able to fix, to rescue, to save her. It was all bigger than me, I was whittled down to my core – and at each of our cores there is only love.
As I listened to Solomon’s words on the headset of my phone, I looked in the rearview mirror at the tiny boy asleep in his 5-point harness, a blanket wrapped around his brand new little body. He had been alive for three months, for just three months he had been my son. I thought about how before those three months I didn’t even know he was coming, I didn’t even know how he would change my life. I thought about how intricately connected he was to Tikva, how her story had become his story, how all of our souls were already intertwined.
I thought about what it would mean, for every year of my life until my very last breath, to raise a son, to raise a black man, to mother a young child again, to be an adoptive parent. To love again. To love unconditionally.
I think of myself as a resilient person. I have experienced pain. I have sometimes survived and sometimes overcome loss and illness, heartbreak and grief. I have been cracked and stretched in ways that have not always been comfortable. I have grown, hopefully evolved in good ways. I have learned – I continue to learn – about what really matters, and about what I can let go.
After Tikva died, I had such little patience for petty complaints about trivial things (those of others as well as my own). I wanted to make a t-shirt that read, Remember what matters, as a reminder to others and also to myself. When you experience great loss, as you experience the deepest sorrow, the really important things come into the sharpest focus.
Would I be the same person if life had beat me down just a little bit less, if I’d had to put myself back together a few less times? Was I born resilient, or is it something I learned? Where did the optimism I have always seemed to carry come from? Is resilience a gift? Is it something I can teach my children, or will they learn it on their own through their own challenges?
There is comfort in knowing that the challenges have had some value, that out of them I have come to know myself.
Resilience is peaceful. When I allow myself to feel my resilience, I experience calm, acceptance, confidence, trust, strength, hope, wisdom and compassion. Resilience isn’t blind faith; for me it holds the knowledge that, while more shit will surely happen, I have the experience – the resilience, the ability – to get through it.
When I first learned about Tikva’s birth defect 5 months before she was born, almost 8 year ago, I didn’t think I could ever survive losing my child. But there it is – resilience. I survived because I had no other choice. I loved the only way I knew how – completely. I learned to love the only way that is worth loving – unconditionally. No matter what.
My heart cracked open into a million tiny pieces. Each day I recognize and connect with my resilience and I put one more of the pieces back together, polishing the rough edges, re-forming myself into something new, something better. Choosing to thrive.
Isn’t that what we all do, in tiny ways and huge ones? I think this is the opportunity offered by our resilience: Choosing over and over to love – ourselves and others – unconditionally, no matter what.