I am the father of three adopted children, ages 15, 11, and 7 months. Two boys and a baby girl. I often get asked why I adopted. I have also been asked (frequently as of late): do you only adopt black children? My wife and I have also lost many children; we discovered early in our marriage that pregnancy is not an assured process. I have held the bodies of two of my children, Skye and Aaron, tiny enough to rest in the palm of my hand.
There have been times when I have told myself that without the loss, I would not have adopted and would not be blessed with my children. It is a fine narrative, and one that I created to apply some reason to the loss. But that is a lie. Caleb, Julian, and Zoey are my children. I did not choose them. I did not stumble upon them. They have always been and always will be my children. There was no other possible outcome.
A little over two years ago, as I approached 40, my wife became pregnant. It was not supposed to happen. We were careful. While we never thought of ending the pregnancy prematurely, we accepted the fact that it would not work out. Moreover, our first priority was Karen’s health. We visited every specialist, and did everything the doctors told us. Weeks, then months, passed by. All the time, I did not allow myself to believe that we would have another child. All the time, I watched my wife closely and probably annoyed a handful of doctors (I am good at that).
About a week after Christmas, we were days away from the magic date where the baby would be viable. We just saw pictures of him moving inside. We decided upon a name. Despite my best efforts, hope creeped in. On December 31st, 2013, the boys sound asleep and Karen working, I called my mom. I finally let myself believe. I told her that we were really going to have a child. That this was really going to happen. It was a relief – just allowing myself to have hope. To have faith.
About four in the morning, on January 1st, 2014, I got a call from my wife. We lost the baby. For the next day I sat with my wife in the hospital as she went through labor. I held, as I mentioned earlier, Aaron in my hands.
And this is the story I told myself: the moment I allowed myself to think positively, we lost the baby. I reasoned a causal link between my thoughts and the death of my child. I jinxed myself because I had made the mistake of thinking that something good would happen. You see, I was already well into this way of looking at the world. If I dared a positive thought (yes, the weather will turn out for the weekend camping trip) I would change the weather. And this time I let my guard down and my baby died.
For the next two years it just got worse. My mind was constantly playing out worse-case scenarios. That became my defense mechanism. If I constantly thought the worse, I reasoned, then anything less than that actually happening would be a relief. Karen was late coming home. Maybe fifteen minutes. I had her in an accident. I was raising two kids and faced with a mortgage I could not cover. One of the boys slept in unusually late. They must have passed in their sleep. Was it something I fed them? Karen came home. The boys woke up. And I was relieved, or so I thought.
I titled this blog letting go of reason (or reasoning). What I mean by that is letting go of trying to understand what has already occurred by applying reason, or reasoning, to the event. Another way of saying this is I needed to stop creating a narrative that simplified the causal link between what happened and what I was telling myself was the reason that it happened.
I love stories. I love narratives. Indeed, I teach people to read stories, to write stories. And I write stories. I go to stories at the theater. I watch stories on the television. I even occasionally play a story on the video game consul. But when stories, when narratives, simplify matters and make things too clear cut, they inevitably become less believable. Consider another lie: Everything happens for a reason. God has a reason for everything. What does that even mean? And if we believe in that, then we become trapped in “reasoning” a narrative that will simplify our experience and often that is for the worse. She was given Cancer for a reason; the accident on Rockton and Auburn happened for a reason; the kids at Sandy Hook were gunned down for a reason.
Consider that last one; the narratives went: It happened because of guns; because of mental illness; because of a culture obsessed with violence. Each narrative only simplified something horrific. Might it be better to say, yes, it happened. Period. And rather than force ourselves to label “why” it occurred, to offer reasons, to speculate…rather than all of that, what if we said, yes, it happened. Now do we respond with strength or with fear? What actions can we take?
This weekend a massacre occurred in Florida. Already we are attempting to “reason” why it occurred. Already narratives are being created in order to simplify a horrific and complex reality. The real question ought not to be how we can stop this from happening again. Sadly, we cannot. There is no way to stop random violence. The real question ought to be: how do we respond? And I do not mean simply with words (prayers and thoughts are welcome, but not enough), but with actions. And even the actions need to be more than a flurry of donating blood and sending money. Each of us has to decide how we want and can respond. Do we have the strength to continue to respond with love? Or will we resort to responding in anger out of fear?
I mentioned in my first post that I was letting go of the jinx. And here I mention letting go of reason (or reasoning). Both of these ideas stem from the absurdity of stating that everything happens for a reason. And I believe that idea is so engrained in our culture that it propels us to create simple narratives that look to assign blame and provide a false sense of control where there is none. Nothing in the Bible is simple, but the misquoted slogans and sayings are. Nothing about what happened in Sandy Hook or in Florida is simple, but inevitably the narratives that arise have the potential to be just that.
Donald Trump taps into this simplistic and “neat” way of seeing the world. He tweeted on Sunday: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic Terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness and vigilance. We must be smart!” Forget the fact that this makes no sense and does not say anything concrete. Forget the fact that it contradicts itself and breaks several rules of grammar. What is disturbing is that he makes the massacre about Him.
But I was doing the same thing. I was Trump-like in my response of the death of my child. I made it about me. My reasoning allowed me to connect my thoughts with a physical occurrence. I simplified the matter and found a single “reason” for a tragedy. What I was doing was avoiding dealing with and processing the trauma. And that, I found, was at the heart of what creates PTSD: a failure to process Trauma (this was not the only trauma I left unprocessed, but it was one of the more recent). And when it is not processed, it is constantly happening. I spent two years in that hospital room. And maybe that is where we are as a nation: we have not processed the multitude of shootings, of massacres, that have occurred over the past two decades. They are still happening. When your body does not process the trauma, it responds chemically as if still in a state of danger. Your levels get out of whack. Maybe serotonin levels go down.
And so maybe we, as a nation, are stuck in still trying to reason WHY the shooting occurred rather than processing the traumatic events and figuring out how to respond. And that may be why we are living in a state of fear, quick to respond with anger and blame. A nation-wide case of PTSD may be what explains the popularity of Donald Trump.
I started out by mentioning questions about why I adopted. And I hinted that one of the narratives that I told myself is that without the loss, I would never had been moved to adopt my children. There may be some truth to that; but to say that is the reason is too simple. I guess what I am getting at is that I can’t presume to know Why my wife and I did not have biological children. To say it happened so we could adopt misses the point. It does not matter. I have my three kids for the same reason any parent has children; they are my kids. Period. As to why I adopted children of another race, that is another post, for another time.
For now I am just thankful to let go of searching for “the reason” and for no longer believing in the “jinx.” For now I am just thankful for a wonderful wife and three healthy kids. And as for the nation-wide case of PTSD, all I can do is my part. And here, in this blog, is my attempt share my heart and mind, to share my words, and hopefully continue to allow myself to be positive. I will do my best to process my part of the trauma.
The Cardinals have won five in a row. See, I can write that. And if they lose on Tuesday against the Astros, I can sleep sound knowing that what I write here and now has no effect. Just like the loss of Molina in the playoffs against the Cubs last fall was not the “reason” they Cards lost; they lost because they scored less runs. I have even processed the trauma of the Cardinals not winning the 2013 World Series (although I bet Texas fans will be forever scarred by 2011). Because, in the end, we all know that it always comes back to baseball. Always.