This is a selection from an upcoming book I’ll self-publish. Working Title: Rambling on Borrowed Time: A Teacher’s Marks. I’ll keep the selections coming…
A month before I was supposed to be born, my umbilical cord ruptured, sending my mom and me to the hospital, bleeding profusely. “There’s no hope for your baby,” the doctor informed my distraught dad, “and you better pray for your wife.”
He did. He drove my three older siblings to Saint Margaret Mary’s Church near Cleveland, Ohio, told them to kneel at the altar and to pray like they’d never prayed before. When they asked what for, he replied, frantic, “Just pray!”
I was born by emergency Caesarian section. The doctor at the Catholic hospital took one look at me and baptized me on the spot, sure I would soon perish. A few minutes later, a nurse repeated the sacrament for the same reason. (Counting my formal baptism back at Saint Mary’s afterward, I’ve been baptized three times.)
When my mom woke up, groggy from blood-loss and anesthesia, she asked the nurse, hoping against hope, “How is my baby?”
“It was a boy.”
My mom collapsed back onto the pillow and grieved. “It WAS a boy,” she heard, assuming the nurse had put my death as tenderly as possible.
And on the third day (intone that with sanctimonious melodrama, please), the family pediatrician visited my mom.
“What are you doing here?” she asked in despair.
“I’ve come to see your baby.”
“My baby’s dead!”
“No he’s not!” the pediatrician exclaimed. He ran out and returned a few moments later with the miracle baby, me, incubator and all. “He’s doing just fine!”
My resurrection is now the stuff of legend in the Ellison family, recounted countless times at reunions. Its telling includes how angry my mom later became with her brother, Jerry. When she’d proudly unwrapped my blankets to show me off, he’d burst out laughing, “Gosh, when we get ’em that small, we throw ’em back!”
After one such retelling, my mom whispered to me — half in jest and half in earnest — the same advice she’d given my brother, Tim, who’d also once flirted with death: “You know, if I were you, I’d be worried. God’s kept you alive for something.”
Unlike my mom, however, I’ve long doubted Providence. (Apparently, even three baptisms weren’t enough to make my faith stick.) If, however, it turns out that there has been a Divine plan for my life, I suspect my teaching and my writing have been essential to my purpose on Earth.
One thing is for sure: I am fortunate to be alive, living on borrowed time. (Attending the funerals of some of my young students has driven that realization home poignantly.) And so, I’ve felt a special responsibility to live my life well.
I used to repeat to myself that wonderful but severe adage, “Live every day as if it were your last. One of these days you’ll be right.”
I’ve since modified it to my own liking: “Live every day as if it were a gift. And every day you’ll be right.”
Let me savor that gift, and make good use of it.