You know when you first become aware of something. Something ordinary. Something that's been there all along.
I remember riding in the passenger seat of my parent's Buick station wagon fiddling with the after-market air conditioner. A big unit that sat under the dashboard and leaked water when the day was particularly hot. One of these droplets of condensation dripped onto the back of my hand. As I raised it up to take a look, I noticed pores for the first time. We'd studied them in school and I'd known I'd had them, but I'd never thought of them outside the classroom.
Little tiny holes all over my body. I'd thought of my body as this insulated sack of me and yet there were thousands of pathways from the outside to the inside and back that I'd never really thought about. It's a protective but not impermeable sack. I remember being sixteen and slipping during a hike. I cut my leg open on a rock when my foot fell through what I'd thought were leaves covering solid ground. There looking back up at me was my shin bone. It was part of me and it yet it wasn't. A doctor stitched it up nicely and I don't think of it much any more except when Maggie points to the large hook shaped scar on my leg.
Seeing my insides exposed hadn't made the point of the softness of this container that holds us in. It was a couple of years later, nearly thirty years ago when I sat transfixed by something I'd never thought about before. It was the first time I'd noticed the soft spot on the back of an infant's head. It pulsed with life. It glowed. I couldn't take my eyes away from it. Would I like to hold the baby? I didn't know. I mean, I did want to hold the baby. But what if I put my hand through that soft spot. What if I damaged the child forever?
I know it was nearly thirty years ago because I was on a trip with my dad who was taking me to look at colleges. My inbox has been filled with solicitations for money in celebration of our twenty-fifth reunion so it was thirty years this fall since we took the trip. Also, my cousin, the one with the soft spot in the back of his head, turns thirty this Friday.
The spot seems to have healed nicely.
I seem to have this whole meta-level dialog going on in my head these days. I think a thought and then wonder why. I'm sure there aren't good reasons for many of them, but this insulated sack of self has surfaced a couple of times.
When Elena died, we asked several doctors how she got the thing that killed her. It turns out that many of us have it. There is a large percentage of people who walk around with the same bacteria that ended her life. They breathe it in and carry it in their noses just as she did. What could we have done to prevent it?
There is no way to wrap up your child and protect them from everything they might need to be protected against without keeping them from being a child and without keeping them from growing into an adult. You can get hurt on a walk. So don't go on a walk. You can hurt a baby by holding it. So don't hold babies. You can breathe in something that might kill you. So don't even breathe.
We have so many soft spots. Some physical. Some emotional. Some spiritual. They are all there for a reason. They help us grow or pass to the next stage. But these amazing mechanisms of life which enable us to thrive and mature also introduce vulnerabilities against which we can not protect ourselves or the people we love.
My memory of Elena is already not what it was. It upsets me to no end that I can't capture these memories quickly enough. But I remember her as being a giant soft spot. She cried for others. She felt pride and delight when others did well. She was the soft spot in our family that pulsed with life. She glowed.