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Bleak bad times can reveal sparkling gems of goodness

I wish whoever keeps asking “what next?” about 2020 would stop it.

Last week the “what next” was thick, choking, hazardous smoke. Each morning, I checked the Spokane air quality before getting out of bed. As the smoke cleared ever so slowly, I’d grimly brush the dusting of ash from my car before heading out.

How bad was it? Well, I actually had to work out at the gym for the first time since it re-opened post-shutdown. Hazardous air is not conducive to long strolls through the neighborhood.

But Saturday morning I woke up to find my husband had opened our living room and kitchen windows. Rain and cooler temperatures cleared the sooty skies. I’ve never before been so giddy about being “moderate,” and cheered as the air quality neared “good.”

Standing on the deck I gulped in the fresh air with my morning coffee and wondered why it so often takes the bad to make us appreciate the good.

This year has certainly given us plenty of opportunities.

During the long weeks of shutdown when just about every place that makes life enjoyable was shuttered, we had to discover new ways to find joy.

Instead of the warm fellowship of Sunday morning church, we cuddled on the couch in our pajamas and streamed the service on Facebook.

In lieu of romantic dinners at upscale bistros, date night morphed into driving to our favorite spot together to pick up food to go.

Weekly meals with our adult sons became regular Sunday Suppers complete with dessert, as we drew our family closer during this worrisome time.

As things slowly opened up, the Sunday Supper tradition became a fixture, and I love having a designated day to spend with my sons.

We haven’t attended in-person church yet, because seating is limited, and we are well aware that for many older folks, Sunday service is as crucial to their emotional and mental health as it is to their spiritual life. We’ll join them when we can all attend.

Date night is on again, though we usually pick a spot that offers outdoor dining. We enjoy eating al fresco in the summer anyway, and it feels amazing to be eating at a venue, instead of taking home Styrofoam boxes.

Yes, sometimes it takes the bad to help us appreciate the good.

That thought sits with me today as we celebrate our youngest son’s 21st birthday. There’s nothing bad about Sam, but his entrance to the world proved incredibly frightening.

On a golden Sept. 24, our grand finale arrived weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders, and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

Having given birth to his three older brothers without complication, I assumed we’d be taking our new arrival home the next day. Instead, it was three long weeks.

Within hours of his birth we were told Sam had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Our newborn was given a 50% chance of survival.

He was airlifted from Holy Family to Sacred Heart and placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to his bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

When he was 3 days old, he underwent surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. And then we watched and we waited, struggling to care for our sons at home, dealing with the unbearable ache of leaving Sam in the hospital night after night.

But at 21 days, he finally came home, healthy and whole in every way, with a pretty impressive scar on his midsection.

Twenty-one years later, he’s our last fledgling in the nest, and having already earned his undergraduate degree, this week he started the quest for his master’s.

He’s filled our home with so much joy; it’s hard to comprehend how close we came to losing him. Those horrible days when his life hung in the balance have made me forever grateful for his presence in our family, and maybe a bit more prone to appreciate the sparkling gems of goodness the bleakness of bad times can reveal.

Sam and Cindy Hval, 2019

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