Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
One of my early childhood memories takes place on a Sunday afternoon. I am sitting on the floor playing with some toys that we have brought along from my house. My parents are visiting a distant cousin in her home. In my mind, I can hear the adults talking.
Despite the passage of nearly fifty years, I still remember how their conversation sounded. My parents, sitting on the edges of their chairs, are speaking in happy, positive tones, talking about friends and relatives.
In my memory, I recall whenever the cousin spoke, it would take her a long time to say anything. After every few words, she would have to pause and wait until a noise like the wind had stopped before she could speak again. I can clearly recall the rhythmic sound of the wind.
When she spoke, she would get through a few words (a sound like the wind) then speak a few more words (a sound like the wind) and each time she spoke (a sound like the wind) her voice would trail off (a sound like the wind) then it would return (a sound like the wind) strong again but trailing off (a sound like the wind) and as she spoke (a sound like the wind) I could see her looking at me (a sound like the wind) smiling (a sound like the wind) and gazing into the mirror (a sound like the wind) above her head.
In my memory, I look up and watch the adults. My parents are smiling and talking. The woman, however, lies in a long metal and glass tube connected to a machine with gauges, hoses, and dials. In order to see us, she must look up into the mirror fixed above her face. She is the only person I ever encountered in my life who depended on an Iron Lung
The woman had lost her husband suddenly while they were both young. When she had contracted polio, her family had eventually been able to take her home to care for her. Now, a few years later, she survived, still dependent on the total care of her family and caregivers, locked in her Iron Lung for most of the day.
Our family visited her regularly, and my memory of those encounters eventually melded into a single image. I will forever recall sitting on the living room floor, holding my toys, looking into the woman's upside-down face in the mirror, and listening to the sound of the wind interspersed between her short phrases.
Thinking back over the years, I cannot begin to imagine what would have been going through her mind as she lay in that machine gazing back at me.