Ethan is two weeks old today, and I’m remembering the day of his birth. I took care of his big sister Olivia (delightful experience) while we waited, waited, waited for news of his safe arrival. When her father called and told me that his 8 pound, 9 ounce son was here and that he wanted me to come to the hospital to meet the “little guy,” I gave Olivia some hugs and kisses and left her in the care of a neighbor and friend. Off I went to meet Ethan Paul. Above is one of the many pictures I took that night, a favorite because of the way Amanda is cradling her new love.
When I walked into the atrium of Northside Hospital to meet my new grandson that evening, I was immediately transported back to a day nearly two years ago. On that day, May 29th, 2010, several family members had gathered at the hospital to await the birth of Olivia Jayne, my son and daughter-in-law’s first child. I remembered the excitement, mine bordering on giddiness, as I climbed the stairs to the waiting area that morning.
That day we walked and talked and snacked and waited. And then we waited some more. We were allowed in and out of Amanda’s room for part of the day, and then the medical personnel shooed us out. As Teri, Amanda’s mother, and the rest of us waited and chatted, there was a feeling of expectant anticipation. We knew the moment was close, and yet there was nothing the four adults could do. It was in the hands of the doctor and Amanda. And God of course.
Chitchatting about various topics, none of them too serious, we hardly noticed the arrival of an older African American man who came to join our group. Truthfully, he didn’t so much join us as he just filled up an empty seat for several moments. There are lots of couches and chairs arranged in various combinations, and we had grown accustomed to sharing “our space” with an assorted crew of people as the day had progressed. He was just another seat filler…or so I thought.
The four of us continued to chat, and I tried to establish some eye contact with the newest member of our cluster. It was to no avail, and I could tell from my surreptitious glances that to him we might as well be pieces of furniture . He seemed blind to his surroundings and was dealing with some inner turmoil or heartache. For the entire ten minutes he sat amongst us, the man slowly and methodically ate M & M’s. He didn’t tilt his head back and jiggle several at a time out of the bag. No, he ate one by one. I wouldn’t say he was savoring them, but rather that it was something to do, something to assuage his pain.
That’s when I noticed a tear streaking down his cheek…and then another and another. I only saw his right side, but I’m certain the tears were coursing down both sides of his face. The juxtaposition between our emotions and his couldn’t have been more different or more obvious. Seeing his pain almost made me feel guilty for feeling so much hopeful happiness.
I’d like to say that someone offered him a tissue and that we became shoulders to cry on. But no, that didn’t happen. We continued on with our lighthearted banter and tried to ignore him, not because we didn’t care but rather because we respected him and his anguish. He’d built an invisible wall around himself and seemed to be saying, “I’ve got to get myself together before moving forward.” It was a private thing, and we all sensed and respected that.
I don’t know his story, but the cliché, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” always comes to mind when I think of that elderly gentleman eating M & M’s on a May afternoon in Atlanta. I know that even when life seems intolerable and full of stress and loss and heartache, there’s always something good going on too. The sweetness could be in the form of some chocolate, or it could be some birdsong (like I’m listening to right now), a beautiful sunset, the laughter of a child, or the budding of some pink azaleas.
Today on Ethan’s two-week birthday, I’m thinking and hoping that the candy man’s pain has eased and that he has some joy in his life. I know I do. And I’m thankful to this man for the reminder that while there’s pain, there’s sweetness too.