by Andrew Taylor-Troutman
I know that you want video games for your birthday — not a letter! Don’t worry, you’ll get them soon enough. But on the occasion of your tenth birthday, I’d like to tell a story about the very first evening you were in this world.
You were born at 12:52 P.M. By the time the sun had set behind the hospital, both pairs of your grandparents had already come and gone. Your mom dozed in the hospital bed. I held you on a little couch in the room. You were swaddled in a blanket and everything was quiet and calm … except for the voices in my head! What the heck did I know about being a dad? What if I messed up this whole fatherhood thing? What if I failed you? Just where were the professionals, anyway?
Just then there was a quiet knock at the door. Our midwife slipped inside the room. Her name was Maddie. She wore a messy ponytail, wisps of hair hung from either side of her face. She looked weary, but satisfied — the way one looks after a job well done.
Maddie perched on the hospital bed and checked in with your mom. Believe me, if you ever question the strength of a woman, watch her give birth. Your mother is lionhearted.
Then Maddie rose from the bed and, smiling at me, wondered if she might hold you. Despite my awkward, inexperienced handoff, she safely cradled you.
From our conversations in previous pregnancy checkups, I had learned that our midwife was Roman Catholic. I have the annoying habit of talking about religion in all kinds of situations — but you already knew that!
So, that evening in the hospital, I was not entirely surprised when Maddie ever-so-gently made the sign of the cross on your forehead and whispered, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
She quoted the Priestly Blessing found in the Old Testament Book of Numbers. Toward the end of my favorite novel, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, an old pastor blesses a young man with the same words. This pastor claimed that his entire career led up to that single holy moment.
But you don’t have to be a priest or pastor to offer a blessing. A blessing is not about the speaker but the Eternal Word who is invoked.
As Maddie blessed you, suddenly all my worries, doubts and fears (that normally live rent-free in my head) vanished. And I knew — I just knew! — that the Love that lit the stars was shining on us. “The Lord make His face to shine upon you.” Shining upon you and Maddie, as well as your mom and me, your grandparents, the rest of the hospital’s staff and patients, and indeed all of life.
There are moments, dear son, when the veil between this world and the next falls away, and the light of eternity shimmers.
“And give you peace,” Maddie finished the blessing. She gently handed you back into my shaking hands, then left the room with a smile. We never saw her again. She soon moved back to her hometown in Florida.
To this day, I still have worries, doubts and fears that I will fail you or your siblings. But though I make mistakes, that blessing is always with me. And though you cannot possibly have a conscious memory of it, I believe the blessing is always with you, too.
I give you this story on your tenth birthday — a gift, I pray, that keeps on giving.
And yes, your mom and I got a video game for you as well.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems and pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.