December 20, 1976 was an important day in my history. It’s the day I was born, and it just so happened to be the last day of autumn. The smell of snow was in the air. Maybe this is why I’ve always had a preference for the crunching sound of leaves under my feet, or those frost-covered fall mornings. Maybe this is why fall has always felt like a rebirth to me.
Your grandmother felt sick when she woke up, wondering if perhaps she had overdone it on pizza and orange juice the night before when they were hanging out with some friends. It was her first pregnancy. But the sickness began to find rhythm and depth, and soon your grandfather was driving down Route 30, four-ways flashing, passing cars on the shoulder. I think he rather enjoyed himself.
At least until they got there. Just as I was about to make my grand entrance, the doctor clamped onto my head with a pair of forceps, and Dad started to feel light-headed.
“I think I’m going to faint,” he mumbled to a nurse as my mom bore down under the weight of a contraction. He stumbled toward a chair.
“Sit down, Mr. Smucker,” the nurse said. “Put your head between your knees and breathe.”
And so it was, that as my mother was pushing me into the world, the nurses were attending to my father in the corner. Both of our worlds were spinning. I arrived around 11:30 on that day, baptized by blood and water. I screamed my first song under the crying eyes of my mother, the pale smile of my recovering father.
Who could have imagined in that moment this life I would live, the places I would see, the dreams I would dream? Who could have imagined the quieter moments of my life that came later, fishing patiently on the banks of the Pequea Creek, or riding my bike down South New Holland Road, the walls of field corn towering up on both sides of me? Who could have named the far-off places I would visit: the bright, green Buckinghamshire countryside, the angry edge of the Indian Ocean on a Sri Lankan beach, the chaotic Turkish streets in Istanbul, or the jagged emerald coastline of Ireland?
Who can ever know what these untamed lives might hold for us?
We tell you your own birth stories every year on each of your birthdays because this is the miracle: You are here. You are You. You are among us.
Remember this, my children: everyone begins as a baby. People who take what is not theirs, people who abuse the vulnerable, terrorists, war-worshipers: even they were babies once, held close by their mothers, blinking in the light, innocent and smiling for the first time. Always remember that. Even your worst enemy was once a helpless, delicious smelling infant.
That was my beginning, in that hospital in Lancaster County, PA. That was my entrance into this “one wild and precious life.”
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