It's All a Gift

These words are dedicated to those who survived
because life is a wilderness and they were savage
because life is an awakening and they were alert
because life is a flowering and they blossomed
because life is a struggle and they struggled
because life is a gift and they were free to accept it

·    Irena Klepfisz, Bashert: These Words are Dedicated to Those Who Survived, lines 26-31 (1981)

A cold March wind danced around the dead of night in Dallas as the doctor walked into the small hospital room of Diana Blessing. Still groggy from surgery, her husband David held her hand as they braced themselves for the latest news. That afternoon of March 10, 1991, complications had forced Diana, only 24 weeks pregnant, to undergo an emergency cesarean section to deliver the couple's new daughter, Danae Lu Blessing. Heaven Scent

At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound and nine ounces, they already knew she was perilously premature. Still, the doctor's soft words dropped like bombs. "I don't think she's going to make it," he said, as kindly as he could. "There's only a 10 percent chance she will live through the night, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one." Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Danae would likely face if she survived. She would never walk, she would never talk, she would probably be blind, and she would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from cerebral palsy to complete mental retardation, and on and on. "No! No!" was all Diana could say. She and David, with their 5-year-old son Dustin, had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.

Through the dark hours of morning as Danae held onto life by the thinnest thread, Diana slipped in and out of sleep, growing more and more determined that their tiny daughter would live, and live to be a healthy, happy young girl. But David, fully awake and listening to additional dire details of their daughter's chances of ever leaving the hospital alive, much less healthy, knew he must confront his wife with the inevitable. David walked in and said they needed to talk about making funeral arrangements. Diana remembers, "I felt so bad for him because he was doing everything, trying to include me in what was going on, but I just wouldn't listen, I couldn't listen. I said, 'No, that is not going to happen, no way! I don't care what the doctors say; Danae is not going to die! One day she will be just fine, and she will be coming home with us!'"

As if willed to live by Diana's determination, Danae clung to life hour after hour, with the help of every medical machine and marvel her miniature body could endure. But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for David and Diana. Because Danae's underdeveloped nervous system was essentially raw, the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort, so they couldn't even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chest to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Danae struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay close to their precious little girl. There was never a moment when Danae suddenly grew stronger.

But as the weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there. At last, when Danae turned two months old, her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And two months later-though doctors continued to gently but grimly warn that her chances of surviving, much less living any kind of normal life, were next to zero. Danae went home from the hospital, just as her mother had predicted.

Five years later, Danae is a petite but feisty young girl with glittering gray eyes and an unquenchable zest for life. She shows no signs, whatsoever, of any mental or physical impairment. She is simply everything a little girl can be and more - but that happy ending is far from the end of her story.

One blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996 near her home in Irving, Texas, Danae was sitting in her mother's lap in the bleachers of a local ballpark where her brother Dustin's baseball team was practicing. As always, Danae was chattering non-stop with her mother and several other adults sitting nearby when she suddenly fell silent. Hugging her arms across her chest, Danae asked, "Do you smell that?" Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, "Yes, it smells like rain." Danae closed her eyes and again asked, "Do you smell that?" Once again, her mother replied, "Yes, I think we're about to get wet, it smells like rain." Still caught in the moment, Danae shook her head, patted her thin shoulders with her small hands and loudly announced, "No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on His chest." Tears blurred Diana's eyes as Danae then happily hopped down to play with the other children.

Before the rains came, her daughter's words confirmed what Diana and all the members of the extended Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along. During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Danae on His chest and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well.

[Diana continues:] Today, Danae is a lively, beautiful, active, free-spirited, blissful, God-loving 11 year-old. She is in the Gifted and Talented program at her school. She is still petite, but growing daily. She loves to play 'active' sports like soccer, softball, and basketball. She had taken gymnastics and loved it, especially the fact that she shares a birthday with Shannon Miller, but decided to stick with the more aggressive sports. She swims like a little fish, loves all animals, and has several of her own.

Danae has a compassion for other people that I have never witnessed with another child and I work with children daily. She is a pure joy to be around and is never at a loss for words. When I first began getting response from the story [above] I was startled. I quickly realized that God was working His magic. I praised Him for allowing me to be blessed in such a way that I see His well-doings each and every day. My husband and I decided that if sharing Danae's story touched even one person, then that is what was meant to be. I know now that it has touched many, many people, and continues everyday.

- Diana Blessing - Luckiest Mom on Earth!

When you are old they will make a hole in your stomach and feed you warm calorized puddings through a sometimes-kinked tube. You will lie upside-down on orange foam wedges and breathe green puff-smoke formula through a mask like Sir Edmund Hillary's while latex hands, cupped, drum good intentions the length of your spine.

You will ask for teeth, and they'll offer you pills, pillows pads patches, or cold hands to the brow. They will have small thoughts, or distant ones, or think you cannot hear a word they say as you drown in oxygen and sit shivering on the toilet. Spittoon days and nights like coughs will pass in groping for glasses. And on every ledge a toilet roll to catch your drips…proud pillars that unwind to your undoing.

I wonder if it will occur to them how straight your back once sang. How of three farm hands, one summer long ago, you liked yourself the best...

·    Ben Wright - Journal Entry, January 1999

I find it hard to write about those last days. By then my grandfather was living somewhere between sleep, this world, and the next. His body was going all at once, an old worn-out machine you couldn't get parts for anymore.

Not his mind. He missed nothing; only we did.

So many moments, so many prayers, thoughts, lives were passing before him. So many much everything swirling in sequence, you could sink your hands in as deep as mud and never touch again. Years stacked high to cosmic ceilings and balanced in the silence of a kiss, hands clenched in evening prayer, or morning verse.

And then a week was all he had. One week to ask the time, to turn his head on the pillow and see snow falling, falling in and out of sleep; one week for sighs, for psalms, for filling cups around and being strong, snatches of children's songs. One week for rain, fevered nights writhing in pain, and cool, cool comfort of a cloth that comes again, and again. For thees and thys and gazing into her eyes, one week was all he had, or needed.

I wanted to write how he sat and watched the sledders, wet bottoms and screaming delight; how the robins came in January one time only, and fed in the cedars at dawn. I wanted to write how they came one by one, came creaking the floorboards when his breathing was shallow to say their good-byes; how they turned with watery eyes, and grandmother saying, "Come, boys, come say your good-byes." I remember we stood on the mountain that night, wondering. The sky was low and snow-black, with one clear line in the west -- and in the morning he woke and told us he would live.

I wanted to write how we lived that day, how after that, everything was simple, because we knew that all along he would have made a joke, or changed the subject. But he didn't sleep, not that day, and we waited.

Somewhere high above the gray the sun was rolling over, one last time.

Evening came and he asked to sit up. We were holding him, there, on the side of the bed, and I wanted say, "Grandfather, Grandfather, you forgot to breathe! I was watching and you forgot to breathe!"

He died like he lived, quietly. Quietly, one little gasp, and slipped away…so easy. I wanted to write what Grandmother had told him, his children -- how they loved him in that moment. How the men came and laid him out straight and tall, and "now thee looks like a Christian soldier," Grandmother said, and the children came with flowers and we stood, shoulder to shoulder, to lay him in the good black earth. I wanted to write how, 3000 miles to the south, my brother walked for hours towards a steeple and found the church half-built; how he turned, with shoulders somehow lighter, to walk back up the hill, because always, always, we must go on.

From the place where he is buried you can hear the river sing. I wanted to write how we waited there for dark. How the fire we built played on the surface of the snow and the wind drove the smoke up and up and through the trees, into the violet fires of opening closing everlasting sky.

But I hear him say, "Don't, don't do it. There's nothing to write about, it was all a gift."  , Tom Potts: 1908 - 1999, Gone but never forgotten

- Ben Wright, Tom Potts' Grandson, from Reflections by a Grandson

Ben Wright is a staff writer for, where this article was first published in Plough Reader.

Tom Potts: 1908 - 1999

No matter whether you are at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or nearing the end of your journey, one thing is certain: as Tom Potts said, and as David, Dianne, Dustin and Danae know, it is all a gift.


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