This I Believe

Ken - Bethesda, Maryland
Entered on July 20, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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This I believe.

I believe that although life doesn’t make any sense, it is still worth living.

There was a time when my life made perfect sense to me. I can tell you exactly when that was, too. It started June 10, 1996. On that morning, my wife Lele and I were handed our new daughter, a five month old girl, abandoned at birth, and named Tong Na by her orphanage.

The great, joyful experience of my life has been falling instantly and profoundly in love with a child. I was amazed by the intensity of all the feelings I had at that moment, but none were really unexpected- except for one. What surprised me was a deep sense that, because of this little girl, my life now made absolute sense. I had never really thought much about this before, but suddenly, there it was. Everything smart or stupid thing I had ever done, every decision, every relationship, good or bad, turned out to be absolutely essential and now made perfect sense because it had gotten me to this hotel room in China and to this child. I knew with perfect certainty why I was here on this earth- to take care of her. And all the cosmos had worked to bring us together.

We brought the baby, now named Hannah, home. In spite of the imperfections of life, I still had my abiding sense that my life was as it was ordained to be. This ended on January 3, 1998 at 9:20 PM. The unthinkable, the senseless happened. That evening, we put Hannah to bed with a slight fever. Hours later she was dead. No cause of death was ever determined.

Mark Twain said after his daughter, Susie, died unexpectedly that the loss of child was like having your house burn down. It can take years to fully realize everything you’ve lost. He’s right. In the pain, the panic, and grief of losing Hannah, it took me time to realize something else I had lost- my life no longer made any sense to me at all.

Many well meaning people tried to tell me that Hannah’s death was part of a plan, that her death and my life made sense. I will have none of that.

Since Hannah’s death we adopted two other girls from China. These daughters, Grace and Tingting, are perfect. I love them madly and they bring me great joy, but the perfect chain of events has been broken. The world is not “unfolding as it should.” I cannot and will not say that little Hannah’s death was necessary in order to bring Gracie and Ting into my life. The happiness they bring me can never make Hannah’s death make sense.

I know it sounds terrible to say that life makes no sense, but I’ve learned to live with it. Surprisingly, I’ve come to learn that “senseless” and “meaningless” are not the same. I know why I am here in this senseless world- to take care of my girls. And that’s meaning enough for me.