From where she sat in the mothers chair in the corner of the infant critical care unit, Tara Yeshe watched as the doctor and the nurses worked over the basinet holding her newborn daughter. 20% was the meager number they had offered. One in five chances of living out the night. And this was the critical hour. By the end of it, her daughter’s organs would begin to fail, or they would not, and her chance at life would grow better.
Tara closed her eyes, trying to calm herself. She had never been a dramatic person. Not one who screamed and wailed when things went wrong. She was a Buddhist, after all, admired for her patience, her kind smile, her clear-minded unflappability. Buddhist training had always come easy to her. Tonight, so far, it had failed her utterly.
Tara Yeshe had never known a person could be so overwhelmed by emotion. And such physical emotion. Tremors moved across her shoulders and down her arms to the ends of her fingers. Quivers of fear spasmed across her stomach, as if she traversed a tiny wire over an abyss. Her heart felt as if it had expanded to fill her entire chest cavity and the pressure of unshed tears came in waves that tightened her throat so completely she had lost the ability of speech. All this for a tiny pinched creature she had not yet even met properly, her daughter.
She bit her lip to hold back feeling and looked out the window of the nursery for some focus to hold her spinning mind. It was a cold night outside, faint stars visible through the bare branches of a shrub outside the glass. Tara fixed her mind on a drop of dew forming on a twig, only inches from her face. How beautiful it was, seeming crystalline, luminous. Remembering her training in the wisdom of emptiness, Tara forced herself to examine it minutely, “A star, a visual aberration, a flame of a lamp, an illusion, a dewdrop, a water bubble,a dream, a flash of lighting, a cloud, see conditioned things as such.”
And as her attention steadied, she could indeed see the fullness of it, the exquisitely fine skin of surface tension that kept the shape, even against the tiny jostles of the night breeze. The drop was growing, she knew, molecules of water in air gathering there, adhering, creating shape, form, presence. And her watching mind called it “dew drop” and witnessed the beauty created by the reflection of the lights in the nursery within its surface, her own face, watching. It seemed imbued with mystery, pregnant with possibility, alive.
Could she ever see her own daughter that way? She knew she was experiencing attachment fully for the first time in her life. Industrial strength mother’s love. A baby she had not yet even held had filled her inner horizons from end to end, limitlessly precious. If her daughter died, it seemed impossible that Tara herself would be able to take another breath, think another thought, stand or move or be anything ever again.
She tried hard to imagine her baby’s existence as that same drop of dew. That clear questing young mind, gathering sensation, impression, memory with each hour. Her body, so tiny, so infinitely charming in its tininess, would expand, molecules without becoming molecules within, year by year. Bones would lengthen, muscles would expand, beauty and form would emerge and that unique mind-woven presence, her “self” would come clearer with each day. Until her daughter was a woman, radiant, sure, fully alive. And then, one day, her daughter’s life would end. All that presence would vanish. The dew drop would fall, and water would return to air, and then, on another night, in this place or that, would find form again in a different drop of dew or rain. And her daughter’s life? Outside the window, the dew drop did fall at last, splashing on the sill.
Tara bent double, holding back her pain. “Not tonight,” she found herself praying. “Oh please not tonight. Let her live.” Around the basinet, some procedure had come to an end. The doctor had withdrawn to a corner to dictate some notes. The nurse was swaddling the baby in a blanket, lifting her.
And then she was in Tara’s lap, the soft warm weight of her baby daughter. “Doctor says she’s doing better,” the nurse murmured. Ever so tenderly, Tara cradled the small head between her two hands. Delicate as new rain, she touched her forehead to her daughter’s, and let loose the damned river of her love.