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Surrender

A few days ago, I held my son as he was sedated for emergency surgery. I felt his grip on me soften, his body surrender and his being recede into an unknown place. He became so unbearably helpless. My heart hurt as I watched the nurse push his small, listless body off to surgery.

The anesthesiologist had talked to me before putting him under. She carefully laid out the risks before me and then reassured me that it would be highly unlikely–the possibility of death. I responded the way any other parent would have responded. With a nod of the head and a tightening of the gut. There may have been a choice, but really, it was out of my hands. I don’t have control over much at all. The only thing left to do was to trust.

Risks. We all think we want to know about risks so that we can make informed decisions. Because the belief is, it’s a numbers game. We think if we can weigh, measure and monitor pros and cons, risks and advantages, than that intense perpetual fear of not knowing, of something going wrong, of loss, of death, of being abandoned, can be held at bay. This sort of rational decision making is spear headed by the intellect. The intellect trying to control the perceived chaos of another realm, the emotions–the borderless realm of the immeasurable and irrational. It was explained to me that there was no other recourse except to go to surgery. And to go to surgery, one must administer anesthesia. There was no other way.

I sat listening first to the surgeon, then to the anesthesiologist, feeling myself become uncontrollably pulled towards the momentum of what they had laid out, their authority, their beliefs, how things just naturally go in a place like that. In my arms, I held my son, who had already received an IV drip of morphine, his warm body relaxed but so different in ungraspable ways, his lack of fight, unfamiliar to me. He too, against his will, going along with the momentum of the moment.

I sat feeling the dissonance between my own intellect and the confusing ball of emotion inside the pit of my stomach. With two persons, presenting rational competency in front of me, I found myself instinctively holding back my tears to match their rationale. I started posing questions. Is this really necessary? Is there another way? Is anesthesia really innocuous? Can’t you leave him intact? My questions were met with controlled exasperation. M’am, the surgeon responded, I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, trust me. And I thought, yeah, you’ve been cutting people for over 40 years, it’s all you know. You wouldn’t know about alternatives. But instead of responding in that fashion, I decided to do what he asked of me. I decided to trust him. Because in that moment, I knew that the plain truth is that no matter the amount of information I receive, my son was suffering and I felt incapable of helping him. I was scared and I wanted help.

It is when we are faced with the intensity of these emotions, fear, the suffering of our loved ones and our own, that the truth of our human frailty (not our ideologies, not our critiques and judgements, not our highfalutin ideas about what the best choices are) is revealed. Then we choose how to navigate our impulses between exerting more control over the situation or surrendering. This impulse to control fear often comes in the form of intellectualization–searching for more information, critiqueing, finding distraction and suppressing our emotional, instinctive gut responses to the situation. Often times, we hold on more and more tightly to the illusion of control by any and all means and only surrender when it becomes absolutely clear that we exert minimal control. We don’t want to feel small and weak in the grand orchestration of life, as small and as weak as an innocent babe being wheeled off to surgery. I decided to surrender. So, when he was wheeled off to surgery, I walked back to the waiting area and cried.

Post surgery and back by his side, I looked around me at all the monitors with their flashing lights and numbers, the endless chirping and beeping of various machines, the too sterile floors and sheets and surfaces, the shuffling about of uniformed nurses, some with face masks. Amidst it all my warm, delicate vulnerable babe–breathing, sleeping. Everything around him seemed to be saying, dont worry, you wont die, we’ve got it covered. And he seemed to be saying, yeh, sure–his breath leaving and coming with abandon, surrendering to everything around him and beyond.

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