Life is precious, but we don't realise just how precious it is until we come close to losing it.
It was 1981 and my wife was pregnant with my first child. In due course she was admitted to hospital and I returned home in the evening to await a call with the good news. Coincidentally at about the same time, Jilly (not her real name), my colleague at work, was admitted to the same hospital to give birth to her own first baby.
As I happily went to bed that night, little did I suspect the dreadful ordeal my wife was going through. All through the night she was in labour but no baby appeared. For nearly twelve hours she struggled with the pain and effort of childbirth, with only gas and air to help her, until she was at the point of total exhaustion. In the morning when the day shift arrived they quickly ascertained that the baby was in trouble; the umbilical cord had got twisted, essentially cutting off the air supply to the little one, putting its life at risk. I was called on the phone to attend as soon as possible. An emergency caesarian section was performed under general anaesthetic. My son was safely delivered by the medical team, wrapped up and settled in a cot next to my wife's bed.
When I arrived they were both sleeping off the anaesthetic, which had crossed the placental barrier. I sat with them, bathed in the bliss of knowing they had come through okay. For the next three days my visits were to someone who could scarcely mumble through parched lips, and a baby almost completely concealed under its covers, his eyes determinedly shut.
While they convalesced in hospital, I carried on working as normal. Soon after my son's birth, news came round the office about Jilly. She too had given birth by caesarian, but under anaesthetic she had inhaled something which had started a serious infection in both lungs. Antibiotics were working, but not fast enough. Her lungs were filling with fluid so that breathing became more and more difficult. Her husband was called to her bedside and told to expect the worst. She was transferred by ambulance to the nearest specialist hospital 30 miles away. It was a race against time. Would she survive long enough for the antibiotics to clear the infection?
It became hard to concentrate on my work. In the evenings after visiting my wife I would heat up a ready meal and sit alone in the house we had moved into the previous year. It seemed unfair, it seemed wrong, that my wife and baby were doing well while Jilly was at the point of death. So of course I prayed. When I had finished praying I realised that I had nothing better to do so I carried on praying. My prayer became a sort of dialogue with the Almighty. As the evening turned into night and darkness filled the house I continued. I didn't need the lights. I knew my way round the house with my eyes shut and the Lord was my eyes – I didn't need to see.
This became a habit. Working half in a dream during the day, nocturnal petitions to God at night. I did not, I would not, give up.
Several days passed and I heard no further news. Until one morning word came round that Jilly was out of danger. It would still be a long time before she was well enough to return home, but when she did, it was to a magnificent welcome. Her house was adorned with balloons and streamers, and a huge banner that said “Welcome home Jilly” draped from the first floor windows. It made the front page in the local newspaper under the headline “Miracle Mum comes home”.
I later found out that doctors from all over the country had come to see the woman who had somehow carried on living when she should have died. She became a famous medical curiosity. I also found out how many others, friends, family and church, had also been praying hard for her recovery.
Both boys were quite independently named after gospel writers.
My son has grown to become a noble, gentle man, an artist, a thinker. And he has a brilliant gifted musician for a younger sister. My wife is still blossoming and still beautiful. The last I heard, Jilly and her son were doing fine.
The reason for this story, I suppose, is that life really is a miracle, and it shouldn't take a brush with death to remind us of that fact. Every day we wake up and stretch is a brand new miracle, fresh out the bag.
In the film “Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure”, Keanu Reeves strives to say something wise; what he comes up with is this: “Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes!”. Which, with a slight stretch of the imagination, is what Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God... and love your neighbour as yourself”. Loving God comes down to the same thing as loving life.
Life is a celebration, a feast, a party. Every day. Every miraculous, wonderful day. Enjoy!