29 July 2003

A child's understanding of death

We have been reading Bible stories to Theresa since she was quite small, and gradually we have been expanding the repertoire to encompass the ones dealing with death. I'm not sure whether she understands what it means that David killed Goliath or that Daniel's enemies tried to have him killed or that the Three Holy Children might have died in the fiery furnace. Yesterday she was pretending that a monster was eating her dolls, her stuffed animals, &c. But this was all fun and games.

While we were at my sister-in-law's home near Chicago two weeks ago, we came upon a newly hatched baby bird lying in a neighbour's gravel driveway, not too far from the tires of their car. The tiny bird seemed to have fallen out of its nest, or was possibly even abandoned by its mother. We were not certain which. In any event, there was only one nest nearby and that was above the kitchen window of my sister-in-law's house. There was an attempt to place the baby bird in that nest, but this proved impossible as the nest was inaccessibly lodged in a small vent.

Theresa was concerned for the baby bird, and she kept saying anxiously, "Oh no, it's going to die again," obviously unaware of death's irreversibility. I don't know what happened to the small helpless creature, but I rather imagine it did not survive beyond a few hours at most.

When Theresa was born at only 26 weeks, she rather resembled a small featherless bird with precious little flesh to fill out her bones. She had no bum to speak of, and the contours of her ribs were much too visible. Seeing that little bird brought back memories of this for me. At the very outset of Theresa's life, it was not clear that she would survive, a fate too painful for her parents to contemplate. However, medical science, a sturdy constitution, sheer determination, and the prayers of huge numbers of God's people brought her through the ordeal with remarkably few after effects.

We have told her that she was smaller than most babies when she was born. Naturally she does not yet understand the significance of this. Whether that will come in another year or two -- or maybe even longer -- I cannot say. But I do know that if God cares for the fallen sparrow and numbers the very hairs on our head, he surely loves the child born into the world too soon.

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