Some of the most transformative experiences that I have had have been those which were non-linear. Non-linear experiences are hard to explain (if they were easy, they would be linear experiences!), but we can point to them. I can point to three such experiences: the days on which each of our three children were born. We had all the facts and procedures, times and dates as well as normal expectations down. Signs of labor appear. We go to the hospital. The doctor and nurses meet us. The baby is born. We come home with a baby.
1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Except that was not the experience at all. In each birth, things happened that were not supposed to be in the formula, often unexpectedly. Even when things did happen just as planned, the experience became something unexpected. As one of the by-standers to the birth event, I can point to that moment each time when the newborn child was placed in my arms. Even as I write this, the emotion swells up in me almost like it did each of those times: unexpected, overwhelming, wild emotion. Humbling, glorifying, terrifying, thrilling energy. In this moment and beyond it, in the middle of very busy, specific things and standing above it all. None of that was in the formula. The experience was greater than the sum of the parts, and there was no explanation for something that, each time, changed my life forever. Forever.
Except this: Human birth takes those involved directly, and even those indirectly, to a place that stands, as it were, in between the domesticated world out there and the wild divinity out of which we all have come. Much work, much sacrifice, much loss, much surrendering of what had, only hours before been a normal, every day life. The encounter then, in that giving, surrendering place takes those who have come there right into the Face of Something Beyond and gob-smacks them into a new reality. And they-won’t-ever-be-the-same.
I’ve stood with people as they went through this process. I’ve stood with folks as they laid their loves to rest for the last time in this earth. And, sad to say, I’ve stood with folks who laid their newborns to rest for the last time on this earth. Birthing and dying are, all by themselves, sacred groves that stand between normal, every day life and the Face of Something Beyond. They change us. The formulas don’t account for what happens to us there. The pain, the beauty, the fear, the joy all mix and still when added up do not adequately account for what happens to us there.
But we are changed. And we are reminded that the deepest meaning of human living is ALWAYS more than the sum of the parts.