Birth: A Process

Words are not everything, and sometimes we act as if they are.  I do love, though, what words and their history can tell us about ourselves.  Words can be a kind of mirror reflecting back to ourselves how we practice our humanity.

The English word birth is a very old word.  It first enters what will become modern English in the 13th century from a Scandinavian language.  It replaced an Old English word, gebyrd which meant birth, descent, race; offspring, nature, or fate.  All of the surrounding languages of Germanic descent have similar words that mean similar things.  When these words are traced back into their oldest origins, the meaning of fate or chance is added to the mix.  Finally, in English the final letters -th on the end of the word, similar also in “bath” and “death”, imply a process.

When we think about our own births, the historical one that brought us into this life, and the daily and seasonal births of new beginnings in our lives, how often do we consider the role of “fate” or chance in those events?  My wife has often told her father’s story.  Just before the D-Day Invasion of France in WWII, he was stricken with appendicitis and removed by boat after the sea calmed down to England for surgery.  When he recovered, he returned to his company of soldiers, the vast majority of which were killed in the invasion.  Except for a fateful appendix, he likely would have died there, my wife would never have been born, we never married, our children never come into this world.

A thing happens, the Buddhists say, when all the conditions are right.  A birth, a process, a moment of chance that set into motion what and who we become.  I stand in awe of the birth and births that are mine and yours.  Some things are coming together even today that will bring about the next beginnings in our lives.  Can we see them? Can we listen for them?

Bob Patrick

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