When the deepest darkness meets the brightest light, it can make you kind of dizzy.
For the more than 35,000 Americans who have perished in the coronavirus pandemic, and those close to them who are grieving, it is the deepest darkness. For those in intensive care whose lives are in peril, it is a darkness of naked fear and apprehension.
And for the more than 22 million Americans who have lost their jobs and livelihoods, it is a darkness of uncertainty, of insecurity and, for many, a darkness of downright hunger.
Never in my wildest nightmares did I imagine my beloved America would encounter such rampant pain and suffering.
And then, as all of this darkness was swirling in my head, the brightest of lights showed up—my first grandchild was born.
He took his first breath in Israel, a few minutes before midnight on April 16.
Talk about dizziness.
Maybe because I’m in journalism, I can’t afford to step away from the biggest story of our time. So, almost by definition, I’m constantly immersed in the pain of these pandemic times, keeping up with everything that’s going on, no matter how dark.
The first breath of a baby, though, is enough to transport you instantly into another world. This is a world of new beginnings, new promise, new hope. (It helps when the baby has the most adorable face.)
On an average day, about 360,000 babies throughout the world take their first breaths. As we wage war against a lethal and invisible foe, these newborns don’t make the news. The news is the devastation, as it should be. We must tend to the darkness and to the immediate victims. This is the law of priorities, of basic survival.
Still, no matter how dark the darkness gets, it’s hard to ignore the extraordinary fact that 360,000 new souls enter our world every day.
Should the arrival of these new souls make us feel better about the societal nightmare we are living through?
No—it’s not about feeling better.
So, what is it about? I’m not sure how to express it. Maybe the simplest way is to say it’s OK to see both sides.
The darkness of COVID-19 is there, and we see it.
The light of 360,000 new souls is there, and we see that, too.
We react differently to each one, but we don’t diminish them. One triggers sadness and fear and defiance and demands that we fight; the other triggers hope and life and reminds us of the resiliency of the human species.
The birth of babies, as my friend Rabbi Yitz Greenberg wrote to me, reminds us that “the classic Jewish response to death is to increase life. That is what your children have done. I contend that the ultimate claim of Judaism is that despite the universal reality that all living things die, that in the end, life will win out—because before they die, billions of people loved, created life and built a better world.”
As powerful as life is, we’re also reminded in these dark times how delicate it can be. Like tender infants, the COVID-19 crisis has made us more fragile. Just as we tend to a newborn with maximum care, we are now in maximum protection mode. Faced with a virus that attacks the lungs, we are protecting diligently our precious breaths and that of our loved ones.
How do newborns take their first breath? With great difficulty.
“Your baby will need to work very hard to take their first breath, and their first few breaths may be shallow and irregular,” I learned on the aboutkidshealth.ca website. “With each breath after birth, more air will accumulate in their lungs, which will make it easier for them to breathe. After a few breaths, your baby will be able to breathe more easily, and their breaths will start to become deeper and more regular.”
Let us hope and pray that our country is going through a period of shallow and irregular breaths, and that in the near future, we will experience a collective rebirth as our nation’s breathing will become “deeper and more regular” again.
Our babies are counting on it.
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.