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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
88 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 4 m y son, Abraham, was born three months early and weighed only two pounds and five ounces. The doctors imme- diately put him in an incubator, hooked him up to a respirator, and took him to the neo- natal intensive care unit (NICU). During his stay there, my husband and I learned about bradys and CPAPs, oxygen saturation and blood transfusions. We learned how to read the many monitors around his incubator. As parents, we have many hopes for our children. We want them to pursue their pas- sions. We want them to form meaningful friendships. We want them to carve out a piece of the world for themselves where they can thrive. While pregnant, I often daydreamed about the future. I imagined an energetic boy filled with joy and curios- ity, just like his father. We planned to read to him often, just like our parents read to us. We wanted to take him on road trips so he could see the world. We toyed with the idea of visiting my husband’s roots in Ireland and mine in China. None of my dreams included a NICU. But Abraham’s birth forced me back to the present. In the present moment, we had a fragile son who needed resuscitation a few times a day to keep his heart and lungs going. (One might think it cute that pre- mature babies “forget” to breathe were it not also terrifying.) In the present moment, our son was fighting an antibiotic-resistant infection that could end his short life. My dreams of the future no longer seemed relevant. I just wanted desperately for Abraham to survive his first weeks of life. During my daily visits, my wishes became even simpler—I just wanted him to SuSAN yAO is a middle school history teacher who has practiced Buddhism for nine years. She lives with her husband and son in New york City. journeys fragile moments by susan yao sleep peacefully, without pain or discomfort. The four noble truths remind us that life, like everything else, is impermanent. None of us know how long we have on this earth. As parents, we certainly hope that our children will live long and happy lives, but no amount of parenting can prevent their eventual deaths. My husband and I were reminded of Abraham’s mortality the moment he was born and each moment thereafter. Each visit could be our last; each call from the hospital could bring dreaded news. The four noble truths also teach us that we suffer when we attach ourselves to the impermanent. For parents, this seems like an impossible task: we must love our children unconditionally while somehow remaining without attachment. In order to be fully present with our children, we should acknowledge our dreams, then let them go. In my case, this meant letting go of all expectations for Abraham’s future. The more we clung to a notion of a “fair” or “right” outcome for him, the more we would suffer. Abraham would be with us for whatever amount of time he was meant to be with us, and we had to accept the uncertainty with as much equanimity as we could muster. Each day, each moment, we had to practice nonattachment. And each day, each moment would be a gift. Eight months have passed since Abraham was born; he is out of the NICU, healthy and at home. We have read together; we have traveled as a family. But tomorrow is an unknown. Abraham has taught us that the present moment is the only moment we have. PHOTOsusanyao