There’s an essay that Rebecca Solnit wrote some years back on fires and hurricanes and blizzards that I was thinking about this morning: “we all have our favorite disasters,” she wrote, and what she meant, I think, is that in times of great calamity and stress, people feel a unique kind of communal pleasure. There is a delicious sense of freedom found in the moments of upheaval because we can cast aside the quotidian duties the moment has made irrelevant.
I bring this up as it seems to fit with the way I’ve spent the past few days. As our regular readers will know, my girlfriend and I had a daughter on Wednesday, via c-section, and I’ve been spending most of my time at the hospital with Ellie, our newborn, and Tomoko, her lovely and brave and caring mother.
I haven’t kept up with events at work, or politics, or sports, or my book, or this blog. Not exactly a vacation, but I won’t deny the relief I feel at being able to lay down the burden of adulthood for a few days and just commune with the newest addition to my family.
Solnit, paraphrasing William James, also called disasters the “moral equivalent” of carnival: “no one dies, but carnival begets the same sense of relief from the conventions and categories that bind us.” And yes, no one died in this birth, but when our doctor informed us that the umbilical cord had been wrapped three times around Ellie’s neck (perhaps the reason she was breech), I couldn’t help associate the three–birth, carnival, disaster.
A birth feels like a carnival. You experience a similar sensation of adrenaline-spiked joy at your child’s first sounds as you might experience in a crowd surging at a parade–a swell of joy and drive and irrational purpose that you feel is shared by those around you.
Solnit later compares disaster to revolution: “the outbreak of revolution or insurrection begets a similar moment when the very air you breathe seems to pour out of a luminous future, when the people all around you are brothers and sisters, when you feel an extraordinary strength.”
I thought of this too. A new child breaks your connection to the past. So many things must be reconfigured, new equations calculated, old relationships put to new purpose.
We’ve been in the same room since Wednesday, a dim, sweltering box jammed tight with Tomoko’s bed, a bassinet, and a chair for me. Nurses have come and gone bringing cheer and information and drugs for Tomoko. I’ve relearned how to swaddle an infant, re-remembered how to diaper one, and again tested the limits of my ability to go without sleep.
Tomorrow we go home. The bills beckon, as does the grocery shopping and the demands of my employer and publisher. I don’t mind or fear that return to my life. I just would like to capture what I’m feeling now, this quietly and small epoch of dislocation and privacy and narrowly focused concern.
Solnit renders it nicely, I think: “the revolutionary moment of utter openness to the future turns into one future or another. Things get better or they get worse, but you are no longer transfigured…life calls with its small, insistent whisper.”