A few years ago my wife got pregnant for the first time. I woke up the morning of my birthday and saw baby emoticons on my phone. Then I got a picture of a positive pregnancy test.
I was overjoyed. Or I don’t know exactly how I felt, but it was wonderful, the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. We told our families. The baby was due Valentine’s Day of the next year. When I got home she had the house decorated, a sign saying “Welcome Home Daddy!” and a pair of baby shoes she had bought at Old Navy.
About a month later I was away again and in the evening she told me she had a little bleeding. Not much to do, but wait. The next morning it was worse and she was distraught. I managed to get an appointment with an OB-GYN and convince her to get in a taxi and go.
I called the company and they were more helpful than I thought they would be- I talked to the owner’s daughter, who had a couple of kids and I hoped would be sympathetic. I got home that afternoon after she was back from the doctor.
It was the beginning of a holiday weekend and no ultrasound tech was available so she had an appointment for Monday. We spent the weekend crying between her visits to the bathroom. On Monday no evidence of pregnancy was visible, so she was spared a D&C.
We named the baby Valentine. I put the shoes and some other little mementos in a shoebox along with a letter. The doctor had told us to wait a couple months and try again, and we now have an energetic little boy.
More recently I was thinking about the fate of my Uncle Laurence, or actually my great uncle Laurence. Over a hundred years ago my grandmother’s family lived in Atlantic Canada. My grandmother, her older brother and their mother all had tuberculosis. My great-grandmother died; my great-grandfather and her older brother went to British Columbia to farm, while my grandmother was left in the care of nuns.
My grandmother recovered but Laurence got worse. Eventually he left BC to go to a tuberculosis sanatorium in the southwest. There he died, alone and far from home, and was buried.
My father tracked down the grave years ago but when I called him couldn’t recall much more than the city it was in. He remembered it was unmarked and very creepy. I called the cemetery district and they gave me the number, in the old section, as they called it. I looked up the cemetery on Google maps and it’s a nice modern cemetery, with flat markers- except for the old section. It looks like something out of a horror movie, with a few decaying concrete monuments but mostly just crazed metal stakes, mostly dirt with a little brown grass.
These are entirely common human tragedies, awful to those involved but too frequent to even be thought about by anyone else. Laurence must have had a hard life. My sister says she saw a picture of him once and he was handsome. But he spent his short life farming in the cold and mosquito-infested northern forest. If there were any girls around they were probably not interested in a tuberculosis sufferer. If he was a pessimist he knew he was done for, and if he was an optimist deep down he knew he was done for.
He saw the light of day, which Valentine never did. Maybe he wished he hadn’t. Life was harder back then. Few people die of infectious disease now, at least at a young age. If he hadn’t been killed by TB he might have been killed cutting down a tree, or he might have had the deep honor of dying in WWI for the Empire.
“He suffered, died and was buried.” That’s in the Nicene Creed, but it could be the biography of the typical human being. I guess we will go on wondering the purpose.