I saw something a few nights ago that I wanted to show you: fireflies gathering like stars underneath a hundred-year-old black maple tree, glittering in the gloom. I thought of you as they seemed to flicker in and out of being — now sparkling, then melding into the evening — because you, too, are on the verge of life on earth. In just a few days, you will be born.
It’s in some sense because of the trees and the fireflies and the evenings that you will soon find yourself here. I thought it might help you one day to know this, because everyone eventually wonders about the why of everything, even if those questions become harder to ask and answer with time. The older you get, and the further away from the bare fact of being born, the more abstract everything becomes: It will one day strike both of us as absurd that you ever could have not been. But here on the margins, where you linger for just a moment longer between shade and light, I think I can try to explain why your father and I brought you here.
There comes a point in being alive — which is composed of those moments such as the one with the fireflies in the night, billions of them — when a person realizes they can’t hold on to life. It is transient. The dim side of the brightening arrival of new things is the fact that old ones pass away, and one day — I think this occurred to me with real finality only a few years ago — I will be among those darkling things.
This could be a troubling thought. But somewhere in the midst of that realization it also occurred to me that, while I can’t (and won’t) be here forever, I can share a little slice of eternity with somebody else — I can give another person the time we’re all allotted and, for a little while, share it with them.
And so: Here you come.
On the other side of life is still death; every person, and every parent, reckons with that. When I was born, my parents gave me the middle name of a girl who had lived and died a long time before me — my grandfather’s sister, who passed on at 3 years old in the 1920s, when those things were more common but no less painful. And you, too, will carry the middle name of a woman who went before you: your aunt, Heather, whose life was taken from her a few years ago. All of us living people go about our business in the shadow of death, but the point is that the ones who went on before us lived — loved, breathed, felt joy and sorrow, saw things they always remembered — and now it is our time to do the same.
So welcome to the world; I hope that you love it. Everything is ahead of you: fireflies in the summer, soft snows in the winter, green skies before springtime thunderstorms, sweet autumn hay, your grandmother’s garden and your grandfather’s coin collection. (One of them is a Roman denarius from ancient times.) There are harder things, too; there will be sadness and loss, people who can’t remain, and maybe you were just with them, on the other side of the veil. But amid all that is the shining, indelible fact of life, the beauty of which is impossible to explain. It’s a gift to have and to share, and I have so many things I want to show you.