The doctor said it was time.
Not in the natural sense. The due date had not quite arrived. Labor had not yet begun.
But the child in utero was fully formed, healthy and ready to arrive into a world beset with dread, disease and death.
So the doctor’s advice: Get that baby born and get you all home.
That was three weeks ago.
Our family will be grateful forever.
Jackson Robert Barth made his appearance on April 1—yes, we all know, April Fools Day. And, yes, it adds a bit of levity to birthdays for the rest of what I hope will be a long and wonderful life for our first grandson. He joins two granddaughters with my oldest child, Traci, and three granddaughters with my older son, Kyle. For son John and daughter-in-law Amanda, Jack is their first child.
Imagine the story he will have to tell his children and grandchildren.
On the day Jack was born officials in the United States were predicting, best-case scenario, the coronavirus epidemic would kill somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. Across the world nations were reeling, health systems were overwhelmed and economies were collapsing.
Locally, the streets were eerily empty as non-essential businesses closed and people followed orders to shelter in place. Both Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers were following medical and scientific advice, suggesting the only way to mitigate and possibly avoid runaway disease and death was to shut down and keep people away from each other.
Fear is a powerful emotion, and it has been felt through neighborhoods and cities and small towns, indeed, across national borders the globe over.
A memorable quote I’ve always liked comes to mind, from the movie Jurassic Park: “Life finds a way.”
In the midst of the scariest time most humans alive today can remember, there’s something comforting in discovering anew that life indeed does find a way.
Little Jack arrived into a world at war with a virus, at a Rockford hospital taking every possible precaution. There was even some question, initially, whether Dad would get to be there for the birth. John could not attend some prenatal appointments, waiting in the parking lot while Mom Amanda went in. We’re all grateful John was allowed to be present, because witnessing the birth of a child is one of the most wondrous of life’s events.
It’s also touching that John and Amanda chose to go old-school, by not being told in advance the gender of their child. Technology has taken that surprise out of the birthing process, and those old enough to remember might agree with me that not knowing can create an exceptional moment.
As Jack’s proud grandpa, I can’t express fully enough how grateful I am that all three of them are home, mostly on lockdown, and safe from this moment of international fear.
Now, it is truly weird for Stephanie and I and everybody in the family to see Jack through the slider window on John and Amanda’s deck. Admitting bias, though, I’ve already concluded my grandson is the cutest and best-looking little boy I’ve ever seen, and clearly he has the makings of both an intellectually gifted child and a great athlete. If only I could hug him and kiss him.
Oh well, later.
Right now, it’s enough to know he’s here, and he’s safe.
And it’s an equal blessing to know Jack’s mother and father also are behind that window, for a time, safe and snug with their son. John is a Rockford firefighter and paramedic. Amanda is a nurse at the same hospital in which Jack was born. The timing of Jack’s arrival moved both of them a few steps away from the emergency medicine front line, where they usually work.
The family feels enormous pride, day-in and day-out, in their mutual commitment to helping others. But I’m also glad Jack’s timing will keep them safe for awhile, too.
Jack is not the only baby being born in the midst of this existential global moment. Staffer Josh Flickinger recently did a story on the topic for the Beloit Daily News. It’s a reminder that even as the world seems under siege and we all crave a return to normalcy, “life finds a way.”
This threat, too, shall pass. The world and all of us in it will move forward again, hopefully, remembering this great leveling force and its message of being on this planet together, even while sheltering apart. The things that divide us seem infinitely small and, often, petty by comparison.
Here’s the thought foremost in my mind. When the world turns, Jack, you and I are going to make up for lost time.
William Barth is the Editor of the Beloit Daily News.