I am not ready for this. A fragile life hangs in the balance. It’s my own flesh and blood, my responsibility. It feels as if his life is in my hands. I look at them and will them not to tremble.  

My God. I’m not ready. But that doesn’t matter.

The fact is, whether this happened ten years ago, or ten years from now, there isn’t anything I could do or would do differently. I would be right where I am now, doing exactly what I’m doing now.

“We got this, Buddy,” I say. His eyes are closed, and there is no reaction. It’s okay, I was reassuring myself as much as him. My glasses fog from the surgical mask, obscuring my vision even more than the mist in my eyes.  

The nurse looks at me and smiles. “That’s my man,” I tell her, needlessly. “He looks like you,” she says. She’s not the first nurse to say this. Normally I would joke, “That’s odd, because he’s adopted!” I don’t have a reply, only a lump in my throat. I swallow hard and I stare. He looks so small. I listen to the symphony of beeping monitors.  

We do share a resemblance, of course. We share a fair number of chromosomes and genetics as unique to ourselves as this situation is not. He and I share a lifetime destined to be too brief for either of our likings.

On another floor of this hospital, there are many celebrations. Cigars being handed out. Slaps on the back and congratulatory hugs. There are ecstatic moms and dads, and shiny new babies.

There is no celebrating in the Intensive Care Unit. Like those in the maternity wing, It’s his first day at the hospital. That is where the similarity ends. The nurse leaves me, bathed in a glow of green lights, looking at a life that is supported completely by the attached appendages of the hospital’s machines.  

I kneel beside “my man,” and take his frail hand in my own. It disappears in my grip. I tell myself that I feel warmth and life through my latex gloves. Then I do something I haven’t done for decades. I say a prayer, out loud. I am on my knees for quite a while before I can find the courage to speak.

There are a few nurses hovering within several feet, ready to act if this precarious situation should start to tip.  I’m not worried about them seeing and hearing me. I’m afraid that when I try to pray, only sobs will come out, and the weight of all this will intensify rather than lighten. I’m afraid that if I let myself cry, I won’t be able to stop.

Finally, I take a big shuddering breath and go for it. It surprises me that my voice stays strong and unwavering, and I get every thought and entreaty enunciated. I feel better when I finish, the load perceptibly lighter. Some might call this the power of positive thought, and say that I gave myself a pep talk, and it worked. I don’t think so.

If you’ve ever been alone, and felt a tap on the shoulder, or something brush against your arm, you know what I mean. You can’t explain it, you don’t see anyone or anything there, but you know what you felt. You know you were touched. This is like that, only stronger. I feel, I know, that I’ve been heard. I gently let go of the weak hand I’ve been holding. So many things are truly out of my hands. 

This is not solely my responsibility, I know this. I know that he and I are not in this alone. There will be an outpouring of love from family and friends. There will be support from places and directions I cannot yet comprehend. I only doubt myself and my own capability.   

I pull a brightly colored envelope from under my protective gown and open it. It’s a “Thinking of You” card, the first of many that will come in the next days and weeks. There’s a yellow bird on the front of the card. I hold it in front of him, knowing he can’t see it. It’s a finch, I say. Or maybe a warbler. I’m blabbering. He doesn’t care what kind of bird it is. It says Get Well Soon, I say, choking on the words.  

Inside are a few lines of verse. The ones common to all cards in the “Encouragement” section of Hallmark. Hopes and prayers that each day will be better. That all of us will get stronger and get through this.  

The cards never say, “This was all God’s plan.” It’s the sort of thing we might say to make us feel better about trying to make someone else feel better. But we don’t really believe it. We’d never put that little nugget down in writing or print it on a foil embossed eight-dollar card. It’s a lie that we’d never go on the record with. 

I read the few lines on the card out loud. At the bottom, a few more were scrawled. I emphasize the word “love.” It conquers everything, after all. And then I see it.  

A tiny half-smile turning one side of his mouth up, and a tear rolling down his cheek. I have been heard. Through the tears in my own eyes, I repeat the words on my card. The last ones, the ones in my own writing.  

I love you, Dad.