I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Courtney—whose sister Stephanie (Nie-Nie) was in a plane crash—this week. “Friend” seems both strange and not strange to say, actually. Strange because I’ve never actually met Courtney. Not strange because I feel like I have. Intimacy can develop in unexpected ways online—in that strange combination of your private thoughts, written in the privacy of your covered-with-laundry-and-empty-bottles-of-diet-coke bedroom, reaching out to the public of the world and then coming back to you again in private.
The more I think about Courtney and that unexpected sense of intimacy, I can’t help but think about the way that our lives and experiences crisscross each other in circles that overlap just as unexpectedly.
Forty-four years ago my mother was burned in an incinerator explosion—third degree burns extending from her ankles to her elbows. It was an explosion that would have killed any other seven-year-old, if it wasn’t for another unexpected: that my mom had an identical twin. See, skin grafting technology was just in its infancy. The main hurdle to that point: donor skin was rejected and there weren’t anti-rejection drugs. But with an identical twin with identical DNA, the prognosis went from almost certain death to the possibility of recovery. It hadn’t been done before, sure, but maybe it could be done.
That my mother had an identical twin allowed doctors to pioneer burn technology that they had hitherto been unable to develop. And even though she spent months and even her eighth birthday in the hospital (see the picture with her doctor and sister at the hospital birthday party below), she did survive. It was a miracle that no one predicted.
As a little girl, I remember thinking about this bit of synchronicity. I watched my mother put on her makeup and she laughed as she pointed out a freckle on her leg that used to belong to her sister. The windowless bathroom smelled like a mixture of talcum powder and Este Lauder perfume. As the hot rollers popped as they heated up, I remember feeling in complete awe of the existentiality of it all.
I was born because my mother happened to have an identical twin. The freckle that my mom showed me meant that my very existence was linked in a direct line with the existence of my aunt—the unexpected becoming the miraculous.
Forty four years later Nie-Nie and my mother have the same kind of connection to each other. As Nie-Nie recovers in a burn unit that has come so far since my mother’s—and yet, couldn’t have gotten there without her—they have an entanglement of spirit; those ripples of meaning that connect one human to another.
So I’m connected to Nie-Nie, too. And we all end up connected to each other that way. (Never ask for whom the bell tolls, right?) Your pain is my pain is our pain is God’s pain.
I’m not someone who believes that God causes painful things to happen.
(Who would want to believe in a God who would put a 7 year old little girl in the middle of an explosion, or a mother of babies in a plane crash?!)
But I do believe in God’s alchemy.
That whatever crappy awful thing happens, God finds a way to turn it into something miraculous.
Gold from dross, again and again.
The unexpected birthing the beautiful.
One circle of human existence overlapping another’s.
Today has been declared "Nie-Nie Day" in the bloggernacle. Over 90 online auctions (with more than 300 items up for bidding) are being conducted to help raise money for medical costs. Here are two family members of mine conducting some: