Monday, April 24, 2006


Aside from all the organic, scary situations childbirth puts people, I've been thinking a lot about parenthood in general. What started it was first, the inpatient peds ward, but what really got me thinking seriously, in more than a knee-jerk now-I'm-never-going-to-have-kids way, was a book I found in the nurses' station at about 3am while I was waiting for some lab tests to come back. The book was about "how to deal with death in children" and overall, seemed well thought out. But as I flipped idly through it, I came across a poem by Kahlil Gibran, entitled "Children." I recommend reading it all, it isn't long. But this struck me first:

[Your children] come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

It was that line which pointed out the essential silliness of my conclusions. Children, any children, even mine, should I ever have any, belong only to themselves and to G-d. Gibran follows that thought with:

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

This is the essence of parenthood I think. Parents can impart a great deal to their children, but ultimately, their course is only roughly determined by those archers. More to my point in experience, I am in medicine because it is the best way I can bring something good to the world. But a more powerful way to do the same is to leave children behind to carry on that spirit, that idea. And that is a cause worth risking for, even risking having children who wind up in inpatient peds. Even though a parent cannot control precisely where they go, cannot predict the winds that will buffet those arrows. I think Gibran had a more famous book in mind when he wrote those words, a book which says:

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them

Indeed. Though that was written at a time that most the kids I have seen treated would have died, I think the message is still timeless. It must be.

I hope, or I could not live.

My thoughts on all this have been perpetuated by another album I've been listening to lately, Birds of My Neighborhood, by the Innocence Mission (again). It's quite possibly the best album I've ever heard. Most of the songs are quite personal explorations of the singer's sorrow upon learning she could not have children.* The poetry is heart-wrenching, but masterfully avoids being maudlin or cheap. I don't want to turn this into an album review though. The point is that the sadness of not having children seems it must be at least as powerful as that of having children "born to pain" as I phrased it earlier.

Even more, the point is that children are not the end of existence. Karen Peris (the singer) comes to this conclusion, though she doesn't want to, in her penultimate song on the album, with this powerful stanza:

July, July,
The man I love and I
Will lift our heads together
July, July,
I've seen the greatest light.
Too much light to deny.

Despite her pain, her faith is what truly matters. It is so with us all.

*Edit: Though this was certainly the case when she wrote the song, the Peris' have since had children. Like Hannah with Samuel, perhaps.