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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Reflections on 60, and the paradox of shadow and life, grief and gratitude again.

 60 is a reality sort of birthday. When one comes as close to death as one generally can and still retreat, at 59, then 60 carries layers of sober joy. We have a new puppy, and are back home in Uganda after weeks of travel to our company conference. I went on an hour long dawn walk this morning through sleepy village homes with a crescent moon hovering over the mountains. With the person who means the most to me, and has been my absolute survival coach to make it to this point. I remembered the name of a neighbour we greeted on the road we hadn't talked to in years . . but I also have to focus on balance and vision just to stay intact. Our team here celebrated with us at our usual Thursday night pizza, by baking pies and making homemade ice cream, a relaxed fellowship with people we live with in community and care deeply about. But several were sick, one of our team kids has malaria, last night we got a call because refugees from DRC who were on their way back to the border reached too late and needed to camp out in our church across the road overnight, and this morning when we walked back to our gate one of the most aggressively notorious alcoholics in our village was waiting in a severely inebriated state to demand...chocolate (we refused, haha). So reality, the beauty of a celebration embedded right into the brokenness of the world. That's 60.

And if I wanted to take a day away from such reality, the breaking news on my birthday eve that the Supreme Court released a decision that overturns Roe v. Wade, which sent our home country into yet another conflagration of despair and disagreement, makes that even harder. It's a 213 page document that I've only read about 10% of, and begun to think about, so a birthday post is not going to do that justice. Except to note the same theme: life is full of nuance and contradiction, paradox and murkiness. As a doctor and a Christian, I see something holy and unique about the human embryo that makes care and choice weighty, different that other medical decisions. But the court decision (as far as I've read) doesn't even address that; instead it justifies throwing the questions back to the voters, who would in our 2022 democracy would vote against a full ban on all abortions if put to a popular vote. But because we have a fractured state-level disparity, we seem to be entering a time of local rules being different in each place. Which means that we aren't "protecting" life, we are hiding behind privilege and unknowing and feeling self-congratulatory and tribalistic as we distance ourselves from the truth: child-bearing is fraught with powerlessness, risk, disappointment, chance, surprise, grief, thrill, longing, fear. No one gets by without cost. Both extremes of the spectrum of opinion would like to create an unassailable hill of what feels like unassailable logic: it's all about a woman's right to decide what happens with her own body; or, it's all about the value of a child's life which is no less in the early months of gestation than any other time. Except in real life, all human interaction and love involves compromise of power over one's being, and everyone has grey areas in their thinking about human rights. I realise for me, some of the darkest times in my 60 years were the months after losing three pregnancies at the end of the first trimester, and that grief makes it hard for me to listen to strident arguments that imply those losses were just my tissue. However, I also have lived with the reality that the loss of those babies was NOT perceived equally to the loss of a 2-month old or 2-year old or 20-year old, not even by the pro-life church. And the reality that my experience is true of a significant proportion (30% or more) of all conceptions, gives a different big-picture view of the universe. Very little of the dialogue seems to stem from love. And I guess that's what I'm listening for in my 60's. If we people of faith devote ourselves to showing love for others, listening to their sorrows, protecting girls from sexual exploitation, giving them confidence and value, modelling respect for women so that boys expect to take responsibility for their actions, investing in the social fabric that enables children to thrive, ensuring that health care and jobs and parenthood are not mutually exclusive choices, well it seems to me that those are better ways to protect the unborn than having six judges go back on their word to overturn a 50 year old law supported by the majority of Americans . . . and calls into question accepted medical procedures for ectopic pregnancy or infertility.  

So yes, my birthday this year carries shadows of death mixed into the light of life. My family of origin gathers for their annual reunion today, the post-COVID revival of the tradition that began in 1946 to thank God for the safe return of 5 sons from WWII. The Aylestocks of Sago gave me a strong foundation. After our Serge conference, we visited Scott's sister in Norway--I briefly thought we could pull off Scott's mom's 90th, my 60th, and our daughter-in-law's 30th for a triple crown of 2022 celebratory togetherness there, but it was only possible for the two of us to visit her. And those are the memories I want to end this post with. Yes, this life is full of hard griefs, and this year has been a doozy. But we had a few days of immersion in the rugged beauty of the land of water and mountains, rocks and trees, endless solstice sunshine, that gave rise to the Myhres. We did some steep hikes by the fjords that a few months ago I could not have dreamed of reaching, chugged up the spectacular inland waterways on a ferry, and visited the church Scott's ancestors built and the farmland some distant cousins still manage as a dairy. Those men and women who took their name from the wetland could never have imagined their son would spend 29 years as far away as Africa  . . . but they wouldn't be surprised to know that seeking justice and practicing love have kept the family anchored for generations.

Glad to be part of both families, the Aylestocks and the Myhres. Glad to have just spent two weeks with our Serge family, pouring into the rising generations. Glad to know my own family of five kids just spent a week together in Utah, supporting each other. And mostly glad to reach 60 with Scott, who is my heart's family until death. Which thankfully has been delayed another year. Cheers.