Fourteen years ago, I was pregnant with William Valentine. I had no idea what to expect. I knew only that I was in a body, and it was pregnant. Things happened to me, to my body, that seemed extrinsic to my person, so much so that for most of those forty weeks, I felt as though the doctor’s office was having the baby, and I was a mere observer. But, when the time came to deliver the baby, I realized it was my body that was trying to make passage for another’s. The particularities of myself and the baby’s self seemed to fade away into something more vital and primordial in the process of the transmission of life. After a safe delivery, I felt a deep and curious gratitude that was beyond the gratitude I had for my child or for our health. This strange gratitude was born of the passage I had been so fortunate to experience, that is, this novel yet ancient, essential yet unparalleled dimension of human being-ness. I had given live birth, and I was grateful to know what that was like. In that experience, I was more connected to my human brothers and sisters than I had ever been before, including to this new baby, who I knew in my deepest self was more fundamentally a brother human than even he was my own child. I knew that in this transmission, I had helped a fellow traveler, and that transmitting life was simple even while it was giant in scope. The experience was and would always be about walking with each other, from the cradle to the grave, in our vulnerability, in our fragility, in our humility, and in that walk, to find our strength, our dignity, and our luminescence, as persons, as creatures that think and speak and love. To have been a party to another’s coming to be, this was an occasion of the greatest gratitude I had known.
In accompanying my father in this final stage of his life during these challenging and difficult months as he journeyed toward his death, I felt that same vital and primordial passage of being that I had in giving birth. While it was not my body that this time labored and worked, I was party to his experience. I witnessed his courage and another kind of transmission of life. For, I saw a man go from self-concern to other-concern; from hope of getting well to hope to of making things better for others; I witnessed a man move from verbal complaint to silent focus; and I heard his relocation of worry for himself to concern for me because he knew I was hurting as I was watching him, mostly powerless to do anything but sit next to him. I saw a man graduate from a regular man to an elder and then to naked spirt in God’s care, and I was honored to be one of his midwives on that journey. In his final hours, he became full of grace, and he fulfilled the trajectory of becoming the father and man he always intended to be. It was an honor to behold, and I am grateful.
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