Birth stories in the ancient world were told in order to honor a person of great stature and to anticipate, by the details surrounding the birth, his or her heroic or saintly deeds. I have my own birth story that, consistent with the non-heroic temper of our time, reverses the elevated intention of those great stories of the past.
The day after I was born, my father visited the hospital to see his fourth-born child for the first time. There had been several recent births in the hospital, and the bassinets were placed together in a row in the maternity ward. One of the nurses decided to have some fun with my Dad by asking him to guess which one was his. My father played along, perused the new-borns and would have said, “I don’t really care, as long as it is not THAT ONE,” pointing down the row at a baby with thick, black, straggly hair, and an appearance that only a mother (and apparently not a father), could love. You guessed it, that was me.
How do I begin to measure how that first rejection has grievously wounded my life?
All I can say is that I bounced back pretty quickly. There were photos of me within months of my birth that lit up the room. Perfectly round face, adorable smile, not the least trace of that ungainly black hair. So winning were these photos that they were put up for bid each year at our annual Assumptionist auction (no kidding). The condition, of course, was that the person who won those prized photos in a given year would have to return them to their owner, so that they could be held safe for the following year’s auction. Put it together and you might conclude that I was a charity case.
Spoiler alert: this story has a sad ending. One afternoon many years ago, I was heading out from 50 Old English Road to that year’s auction. I had placed my stuff, including the baby pictures, at the door while I went back to my room to retrieve something. In that short time, Brother Omer, who was responsible for trash disposal in the house, added the photos to the other detritus nearby and brought them down to the dumpster on campus.
Incroyable! My baby pictures in the dumpster. No computer files in those days, those photos irreparably lost. It felt like a double whammy: rejection at birth and the disappearance of those redeeming photos. A cloud hung over that night’s auction.