Unexpected connectionsJuly 21, 2009
Yesterday I went for a lunchtime run on the National Mall — not something I do all the time, but one of my favorite ways to invigorate my work day. On my way back to my office I stopped to check on progress at the People’s Garden at USDA. As I was examining the adorable tiny melons, one of the garden workers came up to me and asked if I liked the garden. I replied, “yes” … and before I knew it, this guy was telling his whole life story to me.
He is a very sweet man who has had some very rough times. (His birthday also happens to be the day after mine — a connection he loved.) He is autistic, was in a really bad car accident several years ago that caused several physical injuries and has had more than his share of financial and family troubles. He really wants to get married but has found it extremely difficult to meet women, in part because of his autism. He had one girlfriend, but she was a drug addict and, it seems, would sometimes even prostitute herself for drugs …?
At the start of our exchange, I just wanted to know if any of the plants in the garden had died, but as you can tell, it turned into a fairly lengthy conversation. I think he must have talked to me for at least 45 minutes. It meant my “lunch” break from work was VERY long, but the guy was so kind and so lonely, I thought listening to him was probably more important at that moment.
He repeatedly said he wants to live his life “as vibrantly as possible,” and mentioned a few times how it is hard for him to see healthy people, people who have everything going for them and never appreciate it.
He asked about my husband and if we have any kids. And then came the first time I have told a total stranger about my infertility. It just seemed right. I told him that although I appear to be healthy, I’m not. I’ve had a hard time in my quest to have a baby. To my surprise, he immediately lit up. He totally got it — he connected my story to the pain he sees in watching healthy people. We were together in feeling that no one seems to understand, and he noted how it must be hard for me to see people with kids. (it is, of course.)
I would have never predicted that my infertility could help me relate to a single 30-year-old man struggling with mental illness. But there we were, bonding next to the squash plants, united by the fact that we both have a hard road to walk down — albeit two very different ones. (and I certainly would *not* equate my road to his — his seems much harder).
There was a time last fall when I felt like my barren womb made *me* totally barren. I felt totally empty. I remember one morning when I was out for a run, I had to stop and cry on the middle of the pathway. I was so sad and angry. I cried out to God, “I know you use things for good but what good can POSSIBLY come of this? This is nothing but bad!”
I do not think of my infertility that way anymore. My womb is still unproductive, but I am not barren. I still have much to give, even if I cannot be pregnant. I am so grateful to have seen good come of my infertility — sometimes in the most unexpected places. I have found new ways to relate … to a lonely man in a garden, a woman at church who confided in me last weekend about her sadness over a recent miscarriage. I have newfound compassion.
I think infertility has made me a more sensitive person (although admittedly, I used to be much better at throwing baby showers — perhaps my sensitivities have just shifted). It has given me a whole new understanding of waiting. And I think it will some day make me a better mother (O Lord, please hasten the day!).
Don’t get me wrong — the pain of infertillity is still there, and I personally don’t think God actually *wants* me to be barren. But I do think he can bless it … and already has. And for that I am grateful.
Now, how about a baby? (ha!)