An indelible tie in the first minute of life

Posted: Wednesday, May 09, 2007

My daughter was born precisely one minute before another woman died.

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This is largely unremarkable. At any moment, thousands of new lives are starting as thousands of others are ending, moving to the unknowable next stage.

But here is why our story is remarkable. First, the woman was the mother of one of my students. Second, we were in the same hospital, really no more than a few hallways apart at this shared moment.

I did not know Linda, and will not pretend I did. What I did know about her I learned mainly after her death. She was the matriarch of a large family from our nearest small Alaska Native village. I learned that she was respected, admired and loved for her kindness, her compassion and her good sense. She had worked in education for many years and became a pillar for learning in her community.

In fact, she sent some of her children to other communities, like ours, to complete their educations when options ran out at home. These children, ranging from adults with their own children to middle schoolers, were successful and lived all around the state. Some remained in their home village, serving as community leaders themselves. By all important measures, she was a successful person.

I learned several days later about our connection. My friend worked in social services in Linda's home community, and her friends began asking her if she knew the baby who was born when Linda died. I then learned that within the culture of the village, my daughter now held a special and honored place, intimately connected to a now-deceased elder. People from the village wanted to meet her. Linda's son, who was my student, met her.

I believe that, if in her adulthood, my daughter decided to visit this village, she would be welcomed in a way inaccessible to me. In the first moment of her life, she made an indelible bond with a person, a family and village, all of whom she had never met.

I feel awkward when I tell Linda's story because it is not mine. It belongs to her family, those who knew her in her health and nursed her in her sickness. But in that moment, that one minute, part of her story became my daughter's, and in turn, mine.

As we consider our short time to grow, let us remember how our lives are a jumble of the stories that influence and connect us. And much like the gardens that grow lushly in our short, wet Alaska summers, as more bulbs and seeds and stories are gathered from around us, our gardens grow denser, greener, richer.

• Marie Ryan McMillan is a Juneau parent and teacher. She will use this space each month to give insight into the lives of families with young children in Juneau, including the myriad of local activities and educational organizations. She also plans to address available health and social resources, and ways to enjoy the outdoors comfortably with young children.

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