The hospital is quiet. I suppose it is a good thing because noise in the ICU means different things than other places. And yet the room is loud. Loud with noises no parent should ever listen to as machines keep him alive.
He isn’t my child. And yet he is. He is mine in the sense that there is a spot in my heart with his name on it.
I once told a parent that children may be other people’s babies but once they come into my room they are my kids. My room’s desks may have been replaced by couches but it is still true.
The last time I saw this frail boy of a man, he was smiling. That same smile I will always think of long after memories of pink hair hanging in his eyes fade away. The smile will stay.
But will he? Because this time, now, he isn’t smiling. This time, he hangs in the balance.
The lights blink and the machines do their work. Fluids drip in tubes and stain his pale cheek. There is a battle being fought but the outcome is unclear.
Will I see his smile again? Will I ever feel that boundless energy barely contained in his lanky form as he reaches down to hug me?
This young man, he hangs in the balance between adulthood and youth, between there and here, between everything. I squeeze his hand and pray I have years to use present tense verbs except for the odd reminiscence of that one time he gave us the scare. But the truth is, he was hanging in the balance for as long as I knew him. There were times I thought he would be okay. And times I worried the darkness would take him.
I remember my own time, hanging in my own balance. I am lying to pretend I don’t still sometimes inch my way towards that dark chasm even today. But now, almost thirty years since, I know the answer to what I questioned so bitterly before when the light of hope faded and all I wanted to do was fade away myself.
When people are part of our lives, they make a difference. They do matter and we do notice if they leave.
I picture a pond in the morning. The water is still. Emerging from the water is a small stick. If that stick is pulled from the water, there is a brief moment before the water responds, as time hangs in the balance. And then the water fills that place. As the water molecules rush to fill the void, they collide. Ripples flutter across the pond, and the pond is forever changed.