Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Message

“We never understand how little we need in this world until we know the loss of it.”
-James M. Barrie

Some weeks ago Spouse was on a business trip and he telephoned home to access his voice messages.
He listened to a message from his sibling: the announcement was "I'm at the hospital. It's a boy."
Spouse was a little perplexed, having absolutely no recollection of being told the couple was expecting a second child, the first having been born less than two years ago.
Spouse was solemnly regretful that he had managed to miss the usual enthusiasm and anticipation that heralds the arrival of a child.
We both recovered from that element, however, as one does where children are concerned, and adjusted to the prospect of another nephew, another life in the world. I informed Mater and she was enormously pleased for people she had not ever met, in a part of the world she had not ventured to.
Spouse returned from his travels and promptly called his sibling. Alarm bells began to ring ominously when minutes passed and no mention at all was made of the child.
Conversation proceeded as normal but Spouse was concerned, confused and overwhelmed, and increasingly reluctant to instigate the topic. There seemed no reason for the subject of the baby to be omitted from general discussion.
At last, when the call concluded, Spouse went with trepidation to listen to the message again, wondering, worried, if he had missed something essential or perhaps even entirely dreamed the greeting.
No, it had not been a dream. It turned out, however, that in haste Spouse had listened to the wrong archive of messages: that declaration he heard was in fact nearly two years old.
It told Spouse of the birth of his sibling's first- and therefore only- child. There was no new baby boy, merely a recital of a message regarding the existing one.
What most struck Spouse and I, what halted us in our tracks, was the useless void left behind when the discovery had been made.
To listen to us talk, one would have suspected we had in fact long prepared for the new nephew, and not at all that it had really astonished us to hear of another baby in the family. Despite the relative speed with which the whole thing took place, we found ourselves feeling a little bit vacant when it was all over.
We had spent those fine few days thinking of a new child: whether he was hearty and healthy; who he would resemble; what great person he might be one day; and, rather whimsically, whether he might come to visit Spouse and I.
There was no new child, except in our minds- and temporarily at that- but when the misunderstanding was revealed and the sentiment pulled like a great rug from under us, it seemed to be a deep and significant loss that we could not fathom. It felt for all the world as though a nephew had been taken away, so strong were the sentiments we had of that new person.
Once imagined, we could not so easily dismiss our thoughts as a mere figment of error.
Ideas can be immeasurably potent, particularly when one gives those notions a face, a family and a future.


Pauline said...

I remember thinking I might be expecting (eons ago) and how I planned a name and a life for a child that turned out never to have existed, and I felt that same loss you describe on learning that the child had been nothing more than an expectation. Our minds are indeed curious things.

BrightBoy said...

This post was very provocative. It's funny how the denial of expectations can in itself feel like a tragedy.

Beth said...

what a thoughtful post. I can completely imagine the loss you felt. When are families are far apart, we kind of fill in the details of their lives with our imaginations and you created a whole new person--did you tell them about the misunderstanding?

Pappy said...

Great story. Isn't technology wonderful. No matter how you try to erase these little digital images, they just won't go away. My cell phone has its own schedule of when it delivers messages I miss. Several days, a week, who knows, I get a message someone left for a more immediate response. Pappy

Barb said...

Isn't it amazing how quickly hopes and dreams implant themselves and then grow exponentially, leading to larger hopes and dreams.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "He who has never hoped can never despair".

mermaid said...

Your last statement still haunts me.

I have often made up fantasies or ideas of my ideal life. The ideas become so real, that a profound sadness trails ghosts of objects and people that still linger.

I am trying to have as much enthusiasm for what is now as for my ideals. The practice helps to cultivate love for everything around me that is tangible and here.

polona said...

amazing how the loss of something that never really existed feels as strong as the real thing... and how often we dream up things that in fact don't exist...

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Pauline, that's just what I mean- how curious to get expectations and feel loss about something that never happened.

Blackenedboy, thanks for your kind comment. It's good to see a new visitor!
It did feel like a little tragedy. Mostly to do with us and how we built it up.

Beth, you're absolutely right- it is because they are far away, and we don't have much to go on as far as how they live their lives. We as you said filled in what we could. No, sadly it's not something we could share with them, just because of circumstances.

Texican, technology is great but there are times when it complicates life to an unreasonable extent. I know just what you mean- machines seem to have minds of their own sometimes.

Barb, it definitely grew, from a simple announcement to a whole possibility of a new person.

Mermaid, "The ideas become so real, that a profound sadness trails ghosts of objects and people that still linger..." I had to quote that- it's lovely in all its sadness. Striking a balance between tangible and ideals is always a good thing. Never to lose sight of your hopes, but being rooted enough to appreciate the here and now...

Polona, it did feel strong. I'm sure in a little time we'll forget and move on but as I said it doesn't just disappear with the knowledge that it wasn't real... but much stronger than we expected it to be.

Unknown said...

What the Bleep did happen to that child? Had you not listened to the tape, perhaps you could have convinced the sibling, and a search in the closet might have discovered him playing hide-and-seek.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Kip- thoughts can be very strange, and can be a bit wild sometimes- I don't know how we managed to make so much out of nothing but there it is.
As you said, 'what happened...' -the difference between there and not-there is very slight indeed.

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