Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Giving Thanks to a Stranger

RockStories: "t"

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday, and taking a moment to count the blessings in my life always reminds me of how richly rewarded I've been. It isn't something, though, that I usually do in public. This post is something that, under other circumstances, I would never write in a public place. All efforts to locate--or even identify--the person it's directed to, though, have been in vain, so on the eve of Thanksgiving I've decided to send these particular thanks out into the universe and hope that somehow, someday, they find their way into the hands of the young doctor who was interning in the maternity ward at Jackson Park Hospital on the night of June 4, 1966.

The story of the night I was born probably isn't an unusual one in most ways. My mother, 21 years old and pregnant with her first child, appeared at the hospital on her due date. A jaded nurse told her that being due didn't necessarily mean the baby was coming, and largely dismissed her complaints. My mother's doctor was advised that he had plenty of time to go out to dinner before I made my way into the world. This was, remember, in the days long before cell phones and pagers.

The doctor was a warm, wonderful, conscientous man who cared for my family for decades without a glitch, but he took the nurse at her word and went out to dinner. Minutes later, my mother said that she had to go to the bathroom and the nurse lost her lackadaisical outlook. When the intern entered the room she commanded, "Try to hold her back until her doctor gets here!"

In the cold light of 2004, of course, every layperson knows what happens when a baby is deprived of oxygen in those critical moments. That intern knew it, too, whatever the nurse had said to him...he turned to my mother and said simply, "Push."

As I grow older, I find myself thinking more and more about the ripples we cause in the world and never even notice. I think about the differences I've been able to make, in volunteer work, in my law practice, with the words I've written and the students I've worked with, and the way that those contributions might carry forward, the gifts that others might one day pass along because of some small thing that I gave to them. And lately, I've been thinking about that doctor, and how all of those ripples can be traced back to him, how a moment or two of hesitation on his part would have robbed me of the gifts of language and analytical insights that have defined my life.

And so, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I want this year to give thanks to a young man who had the courage and the confidence to trust his own judgment when it counted, 38 years ago. I want him to know--and everyone who has ever made a split-second decision that made a difference and then simply gone with his life to know--that the ripples go on forever.

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