Liz was staring at me when I finished reciting the psalms over Jonah’s head. I had been making my way, these last two or three nights, through all the Psalms of Ascent. Once upon a time these were very precious to me. They talk about Yahweh being the only God worthy to be worshipped. In the ancient world, gods were worshipped on high places so worshippers had to ascend to pay homage. The Israelites did this too, but made sure to place Yahweh above his pale competitors.
I prayed these psalms to the God of gods, higher than the heavens, more majestic than the stars. I prayed to remind him that he alone could save my son.
And Liz had been eavesdropping. The look on her face made me think she might stab me for presuming I had permission to pray.
I turned to go, thinking I could not possibly survive another verbal assault, but she called to me. “Why, David? After everything you did–fighting Glaucus, abandoning Jonah, leaving me, betraying Heqet—why did you make it worse?”
“I don’t expect you to believe me when I say this, but I would appreciate it if you would permit me to say three things.”
“Here it comes.”
“Please, Liz. You loved me once. Let me say three sentences and then you can go on hating me.”
I decided to interpret her silence as agreement.
“Everything I’ve done since learning you were alive was supposed to get us back together and back home. Everything I did since learning that Jonah was mine, despite all initial evidence, was to try to be better than I was before. Everything I did since we escaped has been to save your life, to save his life, and to give us a life together.”
Liz barely waited for me to finish. She launched into a tirade. “You drowned him. You smothered him. You knew he was yours. As if I’d get re-married to a one of them. How delusionally insecure are you? You never wanted him. You’re just like your father, never wanting to take responsibility for the decisions you make when you’re in bed.”
“I can’t win. Liz, you’re here because of what I did.”
“And I wish to God I wasn’t, and neither were you.”
“…But so is Jonah. If I hadn’t oxygen-shared…”
“Does calling it ‘sharing’ make you feel better?”
“…Then he would never have survived out there on his own. Not for five minutes. You know that.”
“It would have been better to die. You talk about it all the time. It’s the great Christian hope, right? That dying produces life, that we have a life after this one, better than this one. Right? What’s so bad about an ending where I don’t have brain damage and our son isn’t a lab rat?”
“I need him to live, Liz. I don’t know him. I just met him. You’ve had him, but when I had him, I thought he belonged to someone else. But God gave him to me—to us–and I’m terrified that if I let him go too early, he won’t know me later. In heaven, I mean. What good is eternity if I can’t spend it with the people I love?”
And in that moment, that dangling second, I experienced my first honest-to-God miracle.
Jonah woke up.
And in some strange half-coo, half-maritime twang, he spoke his first word. He was too young to say it, of course. In fact, everyone tells me that both Liz and I must have imagined it, that developmentally it was too early. But we heard it. He spoke the word as he reached his little hands toward my face. It was a magic word. It had power to heal. Once he spoke it, everything changed. It is the oldest word in Christian history and tradition, an ancient, sacred noun: