By Rev. Megan Lloyd Joiner
As the spring thaw finally comes to my home in New England, I am making preparations for Easter celebrations and Passover Seders. I am watching with baited breath as the daffodils emerge, and I am thinking about the miraculous.
The springtime Jewish and Christian holidays, like traditions the world over, remind us once again of what so many of us know from experience: joy and sorrow are inextricably linked.
At the Passover Seder meal Jewish families retell the story of the liberation of the Hebrew people from the land of Egypt. Bitter herbs and salt water represent the bitterness of captivity and the tears of the Hebrew slaves. We eat them with the sweet mixture of apples, nuts, and honey, charoset, as a reminder of hope in the midst of sorrow. The pain of bondage and the sweetness of freedom are remembered together. The miraculous story of liberation does not erase the scars of slavery or the pain of persecution.
Christians prepare for Easter with the season of Lent, a season of reflection and fasting, of restraint and, for many, service. Holy Week culminates in the joyful celebration of Easter, but first we commemorate the last meal that Jesus ate with his disciples, and we remember the events that led to his brutal murder. The expectant hope of the story of the Resurrection, does not wipe away the sorrow of the Crucifixion.
This year, the miracle of life emergent and the stories of co-mingled joy and sorrow resonate deeply with me. Just a few months ago, I suffered the loss of a much-desired pregnancy.
I tried to not fall right-away-in-love with my unborn child. I knew the statistics (approximately one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and I knew what I considered the “magic” time (12 weeks) when it would be relatively safe to celebrate, safe to announce our joy, safe to fall in love. So I tried to temper my reaction when we learned that I was pregnant, but I simply could not help myself. I had waited a long time to become a mother, to fulfill what I see as a calling. With a number of physical complications, I had worked hard to get my body to the place where I could get pregnant, and I felt so proud, so happy, so excited, so in love from the first moment I knew life had begun.
At what should have been the eighth week of my pregnancy, we learned at our first ultrasound that the baby whose development we had been following week-by-week had, in fact, not been developing at all. My husband and I were devastated. I was paralyzed, not wanting a moment to pass without the existence of the little being we called “The Sprout.” I could not decorate a tree. As a minister, I could barely bring myself to lead the Christmas Eve services at church. I did not want Christmas to come without the promise of The Sprout. We made it through the holidays carrying a deep sadness in our hearts. I had been preparing to spend Christmas pondering in my heart the mystery of life, as Mary the mother of Jesus had, a young mother, expectant with hope and joy. Instead, I knew the pain of countless parents who long for a child while knowing that, for now, their manger will remain empty. We said goodbye for good to the little life that would not be just after the beginning of the New Year.
Many of us live in a world of immediate gratification, of instantaneous results, of ask-and-you-shall-receive, of extraordinary power to affect our environment, our lives, to make things happen when we want and how we want. And yet, many of us also know the deep ache of infertility, the sharp wound of loss, the heart-wrenching pain of adoptions that fall through. As potential parents, we seek to be united with the child we already love, and we are repeatedly faced with the limits of our human power.
The process of creating a human life is truly astounding. We now have the scientific capabilities to achieve the extraordinary. But ultimately, the creation of a family is still far beyond our control. However it happens that the stars align and a child comes to be held in the arms of parents who have waited and hoped and dreamed and loved without ceasing, the creation of a family is the most miraculous thing I can imagine.
So as my tears dry and my heart heals, the ground thaws and green shoots emerge. I carry sorrow with me from this day forward. I know that in the years ahead I will commemorate the day I miscarried and the day my first child was due. And, I turn my face toward the sun and am filled with the hope that carries me through: the hope of a mother-to-be. My partner and I cannot know how or when our family will come to be. We can only hope that the stars will align for us somehow, only hope that we will be strong enough to have faith in what we cannot control, understand, or see. We can only hold joy and sorrow together. We can only believe that the little soul we are meant to love will come to us. We can only open ourselves the miracles of life and death and life again.
Megan Lloyd Joiner is a Unitarian Universalist minister currently serving The Universalist Church of West Hartford, Connecticut and a member of The American Fertility Association’s Religion and Ethics Advisory Council.