On miracles and the Tin Man

October 1, 2010

I sit with my family and the pastor of my grandmother’s church.  We are telling stories about her, helping the pastor prepare for the next day’s eulogy and helping ourselves to honor her with laughter and memories.  There are so many good stories and I find myself feeling more connected to my family than I have in a long time, and then they start talking about miracles.

It was a miracle she found her first daughter, adopted at birth.

It was a miracle that my uncle called at just the right time to sing to her as she lay dying.

The pastor smiles gently and says that “Coincidences are just God’s way of staying anonymous,” and thank God (or whoever, whatever) my daughter starts to fuss so I can pick her up and hide my face while walking around the room with her before they see my clenched jaw, my rolling eyes, my anger.

I’m still so damned angry.

I used to believe in miracles, I want to say, and then my son died, possibly in pain – we don’t know – after not even spending a full day on this earth.  They lowered his body temperature to help prevent brain damage, and I worry that he was cold, that he was confused, that he wanted me when I wasn’t there.  I held him as he breathed his last breath and felt the shudder just after his life left him, and where was my fucking miracle, damn it?  Where was his?

For that matter, of course, what about the babies who die every day, all over the world, some from hunger, some after days of pain?  How can these people I love believe in a God that doles out special favors so randomly and cruelly while leaving the truly needy to gasp and plead and cry?  How can the pastor, who should have seen enough by now to know better, encourage them?

So, as fast as you can say “miracle,” I’m thrust outside the family circle.  They go on to talk about faith, about how faith was one of Grandma’s gifts to them, and I feel like I don’t belong, like I speak a different language.  I don’t let myself talk about this, don’t move to destroy the real comfort they find in miracles, in faith.  I want to, but I don’t.  Dot falls asleep at my breast in the bedroom, and her sleeping face reminds me of her brother, and I want to coo and laugh and cry and howl and stomp out of the house all at the same time.

As much as I laugh at the thought now, I once truly thought, for a while, that we’d get a miracle of our very own, a piece of divine intervention just for us.  Teddy was so vigorous in utero, and my water didn’t break early as almost every medical professional seemed to think it would so he was able to be born at what the medical professionals deemed the optimal size and age, but there was more than this to raise our hopes.

When we visited the Children’s Hospital the day before my induction began, we saw the garden for the first time.  There was a life-sized statue of the Tin Man there, smiling at us, and we felt like it was a good omen, a sign that we’d come to the right place, a piece of reassurance placed there by a beneficent Universe to let us know in advance that we would all three emerge okay.  Teddy’s initials, you see, are T. I. N., and we’d been jokingly calling him our little tin man for some time.  We returned to our room at the Ronald McDonald House feeling comforted, feeling like God had winked at us.  Like we’d been promised a miracle.

I really wanted to believe in that Tin Man because it would help me to believe in my own little tin man, in my Teddy.  Later, after long days of induction and the grim decision-making that came after my son was born, we said goodbye to Teddy in that garden.  I couldn’t look the Tin Man in the eye.

If God is responsible for that kind of coincidence, I’m not surprised he wants to remain anonymous.

I don’t know what my family would say if I told them all of this.  I’ve touched on it when I’ve talked to Mom, but I worry that I might be testing her faith past what she’s comfortable with, and, as I miss my own faith and belief that God was a sort of friend I could talk to, I don’t want to push her too far.

I sit through Grandma’s funeral (beautiful) and chat with family afterward.  I show off my daughter and smile and hide my anger away behind love and duty, which is maybe the best thing I can do with this anger right now.

But I don’t believe in miracles or in the Tin Man any more, and I’ve come to think there’s no coming back from that.



  1. “felt the shudder” oh, hun. That’s a terrible thing for a mother to have to feel. *crying*

    Good things are often attributed to miracles, but what are bad things attributed to? God’s tests? Faith… hmph.

    I wish your family could speak your language.

  2. This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.

    I know what you mean about seeing a wink, or hoping for your own miracles. I know what you mean about losing faith that “it’s all good” or part of some plan or just the universe “unfolding as it should.” I used to be agnostic, but believed in the Desiderata. No more.

    I went from that to Nothing. Chaos. Pure anger. That didn’t work for me, either. I’m still trying to figure this out. I’m sure, even with your sweet little Dot, there is much to figure out.

    I hope you find a place where you can find peace.

  3. This is completely, exactly, how I feel. I cannot stomach miracles. I used to look for them, wish for them, try to see God, or fate or whatever, ‘winking’ at me…but now I try not to look anymore. If anything good happens I want to be surprised. I want no expectations.

    When I used to work in the NICU we got LOTS of babies that had parents praying for a miracle. Some got it. Some did not. There was no rhyme or reason for it. Some babies’ systems continued to fuction under great stress and some were just too far gone.

    I now understand that calling something a ‘miracle’ means THAT IT DOESN’T HAPPEN OFTEN. If every child or adult with ‘x’ condition lived, it would just be what happened, what was expected. For every ‘miracle’ that occurs for some, there are many that don’t get one. Their loved one dies, or remains ill.

    My son did not get a miracle. It still makes me angry and sad…but I know I’m in good company with all the rest that didn’t get their miracle either.

    Maybe next time.

  4. So beautifully written.

    I would thought that the Tin Man statue was God winking too and I’m not surprised you couldn’t look at that statue afterwards.

    I don’t know what to do with that anger either.

  5. “If God is responsible for that kind of coincidence, I’m not surprised he wants to remain anonymous.”

    Or maybe, like the tin man, He doesn’t have a heart.

    I’ve always been an atheist, but I had faith that I would always have an element of control of my life. This was, needless to say, completely shattered.

    Thinking of you x

  6. Such a lot of this chimed true for me too. My faith is battered and dented and I wonder why I didn’t get my miracle. I am still SO angry but … I miss my faith and I still hope that some day I’ll get it back but I don’t know where to look for it or how to reconcile my daughter’s death.

  7. Perfectly put. We had Simon’s nan’s funeral this week and many of the same thoughts arose for me.

  8. You expressed this grief so beautifully- not just that of our missing babies, but the loss of faith, the belief in miracles.
    How I wished we had a miracle too, and I still burn for it, but I can no longer believe in it… and look with envy those who still believe.
    big hugs to you. xo

  9. I am sorry to come to this post so late, but your words are so compelling and I relate so much to the sentiments you express beautifully. It is almost too much to talk about. If there is one taboo in my family, this is it. My lack of faith, which started before I lost Eva and was solidified by her death, has alienated me from my very religious (and religious in a totalitarian kind of way) family.

  10. Yes, to all of this, yes.

    When we were faced with the decision of stopping the cooling protocol and taking our son off of life support, the pediatric neurologist said, quite bluntly, “There are no miracles. There are no miracle babies in situations like these.” And I was angry with her for her bluntness, then. Now, I see her words as simple truth, and as angry as it makes me to know she spoke the truth, I appreciate that she didn’t try to sell me on anything else.

    I share your anger, your confusion with the world of “believers.” I wish I could still have faith, believe in miracles, in signs, in something. But I just don’t.

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