May 1, 2008

The Two Gates

Szilvi and I have recently gone through a life-changing experience. I wrote the following essay in order to explain it as clearly as I could to my family.

Your mind turns its attention, at some point in your life, away from the portal through which souls enter this world and becomes increasingly aware of that other portal through which souls depart again. I'm not talking about the moment you first truly realize your mortality sometime in your twenties, when you understand that this life won't last forever, and that you will have to make some choices that narrow your possibilities for the rest of this life. No, I'm talking about the point at which you cannot deny that your years in this body have reached well beyond half of the statistical average lifespan for your gender, social stratum, and geographical location. It's just a fact: you are closer to the exit, than you are to the entrance. It doesn't mean you need to fret or panic, but it does mean that if you are wise, you should slowly begin to prepare for it.

This has nothing to do with being morbid, or having a death obsession. As a matter of fact, due to my adherence to a Rosicrucian philosophy, I avoid using the words death, and dying, because they tie you to a limited, materialistic conception of human experience. The truth is, we never die, only these bodies we inhabit while in this world. I may have misgivings about the physical pain involved, and I may have some fears about what it's like to get old and weak and forgetful, but I don't really fear death itself. I know I existed before this life, and I'm certain I'll continue to exist after this particular incarnation. That's not really an issue.

But there is the matter of gracefully living out the rest of this life. I've always been what they call a "late bloomer"; slower to mature than my peers.

So I find it hard to understand why I, at this stage of my life, am still intimately involved with the gate that lets souls in. This was the question raised inside me when, not more than a few weeks ago, we determined that Szilvi was pregnant. As usual, it caught us by surprise. I'm not going to go into the gritty details, but it's not as if we don't use contraception. We always have. Nonetheless, none of our children were planned; none of the four of them, and soon to be five (six, counting my child from my first marriage). Their conceptions have always beat the odds, which if calculated, were always several thousand-to-one. These souls really wanted to be born into this family, into this time, into this milieu. If you accept the idea of reincarnation, it follows that souls choose the time, place and circumstances of their birth. These children chose us. The corollary is that we, unconsciously wanted all these children. I love every last one of them with all my heart. I can't imagine what my life would be like without any one of them.

But the news was overwhelming. When we discovered that we would be having a third child (Abigail) and a fourth (Timothy), I somehow managed to get over the shock rather quickly and adopt a positive, accepting attitude to the new situation. But this time I felt overwhelmed. No! It can't be! We can't have a fifth child! Out of the question! It didn't take much discussion after the line turned blue on the home pregnancy test. There's no place in our lives for a fifth child. We would just have to abort it.

A grey gloom subtly and immediately engulfed Szilvi's and my lives. We tried (or at least I tried) to be cheerful and matter-of-fact about the situation. Szilvi accepted the reasoning I had stated that first evening. It goes like this:

It's one thing to be an irresponsible young person who thinks abortion is just an unpleasant way to fix the consequences of your reckless behavior, but it is quite another for a responsible married couple who are already bearing more than their share of society's burden by conscientiously raising several young children as well as they can. We are nothing if not responsible parents. We should not feel we have to justify ourselves. That was the reasoning I was going by.

Despite the fact that my job provides my family with wonderful medical insurance, naturally such a procedure isn't covered, so Szilvi began the laborious process of dealing with the state health-care bureaucracy. First she had to go to a doctor to confirm she was pregnant, which had to be verified with an ultrasound. The radiologist, unaware of our intentions, cheerfully announced she saw a nice healthy baby. Great. With those papers in handSzilvi had to go a counselling agency, which -- once they heard we had four children -- didn't do the hard-sell to try to make her change her mind. There was a three-day waiting period, after which you can go back and get a "permit" to schedule the procedure at a hospital. WhenSzilvi got the papers, the soonest she could get an appointment at the hospital was eight days after that. It would be a Friday. It would be an ambulatory procedure: go in in the morning, come home in the evening.

All this time, it played on our minds. It was agony waiting.

And now we had a week and a half to wait. How do you just go on living your life with an event like that pending?

At one point, I took a day off from work to go with Szilvi and Abigail to the Obuda Waldorf Kindergarten for the annual Mardi Gras party. Szilvi was helping out with food and decorating, and she couldn't do that while she was taking care of Timothy. In Hungary, Waldorf families tend to be bigger than average. I'm not sure why that is, perhaps it has to do with the fact that they tend to be above the median income level. There are several families in our children's classes with four or more children. So as I made small talk and ate at the party, I kept watching the kids, and the parents, and I found myself entertaining the thought: what's the difference between four and five children? Can it be that much harder? They say the big jump is between two and three. We could do it, couldn't we? Of course, I didn't share any of these thoughts withSzilvi.

When we got home, Szilvi and I got into an argument. I accused her of making me feel guilty by making long faces and moping around the house. It came out in the conversation that she thought we'd made our decision too hastily. She thought we should at least talk about it and consider all the possibilities. I didn't want to consider! I'd decided. I was pissed off. We discussed the rightness/wrongness of abortion. I said I didn't have the same scruples that Christians do, since I was convinced of the truth of certain mystical doctrines that say the soul does not inhabit the body until the body takes its first breath. Until then, it's the power of the mother's soul that animates the body.Szilvi was not so convinced of that.

At some point in the conversation Szilvi mentioned a dream she'd had before she knew she was pregnant. In the dream Abigail had been saved from drowning, and when an ambulance arrived, they wanted to take her away for observation, butSzilvi vehemently resisted them taking Abigail away from her. Szilvi felt/suspected this dream had been a warning not to let "them" take away her daughter; her unborn daughter. After we'd both calmed down I proposed that we use our inner resources to help us get clarity. We would incubate dreams to address our problem, and see what they told us. We gave ourselves five days to make the "final" decision.

The dreams obviously addressed our question, but the answers were riddles. We did dreamwork together several times that week, and came to the conclusion (well, I guess I came to the conclusion) that there was nothing in the dreams screaming out not to go through with this. At this point we still had several days to go before the Friday morning appointment. The mood got darker, despite my efforts to take it matter-of-factly. I began spending lots of time during the day staring out my window at the office, and often closed my eyes in silent prayer, asking The Master Within to bring me peace and balance.Szilvi got more silent and brooding with each day. The fact that we weren't telling the children what was going on made things even worse. How do you explain something like this to a child? Especially your own children! You can just imagine them having nightmares about what would have happened had you decided to abort them. No. We weren't telling the children.

For the day of the procedure, I arranged to to take vacation time so I could take Abigail to and from kindergarten and spend the day with Timothy. I don't even recall what we were going to tell the children. Something vague about having to see the doctor. I took the Thursday off as well, to be emotionally supportive ofSzilvi.

I have to explain that in Hungary there is a particular means of paying money that goes into public funds. It's called a cheque, but it doesn't work like a check in Western countries. You pay it in the post office, and you get a stub that shows you've paid that amount to a certain beneficiary. With this, you can prove to an authority that you've paid. This was how the fee for the procedure had to be paid, which meant someone had to pay the fee at the post office at least the day before, which meant Thursday, soSzilvi could present the stub on Friday.

Thursday was a black day, no matter how cheerful I tried to be. Szilvi was listless. I told her she had to maintain her routines if she didn't want to go crazy. She did, reluctantly. Finally, it came time for me to take a walk to the post office. I was getting ready to leave whenSzilvi made the remark, "Could you arrange for a small tornado to rip that cheque out of your hands, and take it off to Utah." I was stunned. What did that remark mean? I thought we'd made up our minds. Well,Szilvi said, she still wasn't quite sure. She knew I was sure. I started getting really agitated. I guess I was even beginning to yell. What the hell kind of thing was that to say just as I'm going out the door! You don't decide one thing and feel inside you should do something else! Get it together! What are we doing here? I thought we had this decided days ago!

And then I yelled: Go get your dream journal! Let's get this matter clear! She looked at me incredulously. What good would that do, she asked. We've been over it all already, haven't we?

"Go get your dream journal! I'm not going to do something just because we're drifting into it. I want to be sure."

So we went over the dreams, hers and mine, one by one. I was pacing up and down the kitchen floor like a cat in a zoo cage, talking my thoughts out loud, going over every image, event and configuration in those dreams; drawing associations, speculating on the messages. Somehow, I saw those dreams differently in that moment than I'd seen them all along. I was becoming convinced the message was: we were capable of raising another child.

I confessed to Szilvi what had been going through my head all those days I'd stared out the window of my office. It had to do with faith. Faith in myself. Faith in providence. Faith in the powers I claim to know all human beings possess. When we found out thatSzilvi was pregnant with Timothy, it took a huge leap of faith to go through with it. But we did. We moved heaven and earth to find the resources and make the arrangements to get a bigger apartment suitable for our family. But we did it. It wasn't easy, but through the power of visualization, creative effort, and shear will power, we moved into a new apartment weeks before Timothy was born. BothSzilvi and I were somewhat amazed at what we were capable of doing when we had to do it.

And now we had learned there was another baby coming.

As we went over the dreams, there were a few that disturbed me. One in particular seemed to have a message for me. In this dream,Szilvi and I are visiting a museum that's been made out of the home of an Israeli man killed in a suicide bombing. The house has been preserved the way it was when he was alive. The upstairs of the house was reminiscent of the attic study I had during my last year as an undergraduate. There were all kinds of projects lying around, and things he collected: evidence of an intellectually active and curious human being. There was a low bed on the floor (as there had been in my study) consisting of a just a mattress or perhaps box springs as well, but certainly no frame. On the bed was a strange wooden tray, about the length of my torso, roughly carved by hand. It was like a giant trencher or meat serving dish. I knew this was there because the man had suffered from a bad back. There was a blanket on the bed, carelessly tossed aside, making it look like someone had just been taking a nap. I decided to try the tray out, and lay down on it. I could tell that it must have been comfortable for the man, but it was just too small and confining for me.

It struck me that this man was my former self: a man with the time and leisure for numerous intellectual pursuits. And he had a bad back. He didn't have a strong enough spine! And now, the comfortable way he compensated for his weak spine was too small and confining for me!

This and other dreams convinced me that I'd been trying to dodge my responsibility. I had no excuse thinking I didn't have the power to handle the situation.

I got the cheque, and held it in my hand. I told Szilvi that I'd never accuse her of saddling me with too many children if she promised never to complain that they were too much of a burden. She readily agreed. I took a dinner plate off the shelf, and a box of matches.

"Are you certain this is what you want to do?"

Szilvi, looking at me in wide-eyed disbelief, nodded. I struck a match and touched the flame to the corner of the thick paper of the cheque, and the dry material caught quickly. Very soon, it was a tiny black object on the plate.

I knew we'd done the right thing, because for the first time in weeks, Szilvi and I were happy that afternoon. We smiled and laughed, and started talking about having a baby. God knows we'd been through this often enough already. We have lots of practice. I recall that when Timothy was born, the very next daySzilvi and I were in the familiar routine of feeding, changing, naps, and carrying him around. It becomes second nature. And as for the material and financial matters involved in having one more child; we just have to believe in our power to make our way in the world.

Indeed, I am closer to the door from which souls leave this world than to the one where they enter, but that's no reason for me not to look back and watch as the miracle of birth continues to happen, as it always has, and always will.