I planted my vegetable garden a week ago, and none of the seeds have germinated. Every day, often twice a day, I look at my garden and I am struck by an irrational fear: what if nothing grows? Every year, this fear: what if nothing comes up.
So much of what happens, especially at this stage, is happening in a dark and secret world. I have no knowledge of whether or not things are working as they should. And all I have left is 20 years of gardening experience to tell me: garden’s don’t entirely fail to germinate barring a catastrophe. Sure, the peas may not grow, but the entire garden? Something will come up. It always does. I must remind myself that history is on my side. And silence the voices in my head that remind me of the catastrophe’s of this year.
I am looking at plants in my flower beds, and trying to decide if they are dead, or merely still sleeping. Did my forget-me-not’s forget to wake up, or must I accept that they died during this long, cold winter? I have no explanation of why they should have died. They are hardy to Zone 3, they were covered with snow, they were watered in this fall, and given water in early spring to help them wake up. I am strangely angry over their failure to live. I swear I will never buy plants there again. Dumb plants that they didn’t grow. I am resentful of wasting a permanent plant marker on them, and I wonder if I should only mark things the second year – after they have lived through the testing of an Alberta Winter. I begrudge them the water and the fertilizer and the weeding they received last year. I am frustrated that I should have spent time on them.
I am frustrated with hopes that remain unanswered. I am aware that I am waiting on things uncertain.
And in the midst of all of this, I am remembering the service on Sunday. I am remembering the line in the hymn- about the patience of unanswered prayer. I am seeing the lines drawn between my garden and Gabriel, between waiting and hoping, frustration and sorrow.
I have been a Christian for 14 years now. And I have prayed millions of prayers. Prayers that were quick, were long, that were agonized. Prayers thrown up to God, hoping He would catch them as I rushed to do something or be somewhere. Prayers for strangers – the woman crying on the phone, “Lord, be with her”.
None of those prayers were so desperate, so dire, so frantic, so frenzied as mine for my son. I remember my prayer as I drove home from the Midwife’s after my diagnosis: “Lord, I’m so frightened”. I remember the prayers in the hospital while they tested me. “Lord, please get this under control”. I remembered the prayers as I looked at Mr. Spit in the small diagnosis room. “Something’s wrong, the Resident is concerned.” I remember the prayers to steel myself as the senior Perinatologist came in the room and admitted me, so that I could give birth to a to a baby that would die. I remember my frantic prayers for a miracle, for an outcome other than death – bartering, begging, pleading. I remember prayers bracketed by the blood pressure machine – the beginning of liturgy as the cuff started inflating “Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. . .” and I remember the sad and defeated beep-beep of the machine, as it announced that still, my blood pressure was too high.
I remember that one last injunction to push, from deep within my body. A power, stronger than I have ever known – a prayer of my body, perhaps. I did not know that my body could contain such might – such force to make me do that which I did not want to do. I remember the red of Mr. Spit’s shirt, I remember the feel of his hands on my shoulders. And I remembered that one last prayer of Christ’s – before his death saying “Father if it is possible, take this cup of sorrows from me”.
And finally, I remember my prayers a few days after Gabriel’s birth. Prayers of thankfulness that my life was spared. Prayers of gratitude that Gabriel was born alive. Prayers that he was able to be baptized, which meant so much to me. Prayers of thanksgiving that my amazing midwife was with us. Prayers thanking God that I had been pregnant at all.
I hear that my faith must be strong. My faith is small and weak. I have no answers for why this tragedy should have struck me. A classic education, discussions on what the philosphers call the problem of pain, means nothing in this most private of pain. Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant – what do they know of dead babies? What do they know of agony or terror or emptiness?
The problem of pain is not that God did not answer all of those prayers for Gabriel, it is that He said “no”. And this answer? I do not understand it.
It is the small, pallid, agonizing story that was Gabriel’s life, and is his death, it is this set of facts that leave me to my true unanswered prayer:
Why Lord? Why?