A Soft Spot

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.

Published in: on May 30, 2006 at 1:08 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a beautiful post, Daniel. We have been so busy these past few days and I finally caught up on my reading and your blog. It always amazes me the lessons I learn from your writings. I do hope that someday you will consider turning these into a book, forever honoring Elena and spreading your lessons and her teachings to an even greater audience.

    You are right, of course; we must live, breathe, love, travel, etc. even though these things can hurt us, kill us, make us ill. We have no choice but to live and let live. There is only one alternative to living and we all know that Elena and others whose lives ended way too soon, if given the chance, would choose life each and every time. So though living can be hard and painful at times, we should all remember to choose life and joy each and every time–if only to honor those who cannot do so anymore.
    Thank you again for reminding me of this.

  2. Your entry today seems like the right time to share my memory of the first time I truly took notice of Elena and Maggie. I was walking my son towards the school building (we were running a bit late) when I noticed two very cute girls hopping out of a van. They were racing at top speed towards the school when the smaller of the two stopped stock still, and whipped around to race back towards the car. The older girl looked exasperated (I think she even shook her head!) and continued to race towards the school. The younger girl ran back to the car and planted a big kiss on her mom’s cheek, and THEN she was ready to go to school.

  3. Great post today. I know its very hard but a lot of the time I think the real task of being human is holding a space for that soft spot not to “heal” but rather to remain open and soft and glowing, despite the ever-present risk of hurt. Staying open lets you experience the magic (without looking for reason) and also both the joy and the pain of living. What I like most about Dear Elena is the way you are holding that space. Thank you, Daniel.

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