Vantage Point

Light Those Candles


I always welcome the month of April with joy and watch it depart with regret, for several reasons. It’s the month when Easter usually occurs, and I love the Easter season. It’s also when spring arrives in earnest, with its warm breezes and blooming flowers and the glorious, pink-blossomed weeping cherry and magnolia trees that I can never get enough of. With sunshine, blue skies and temperatures that are warm but not hot, what’s not to love?

April also happens to be the month I was born. Now, I know people who do not look forward to celebrating their birthdays, who try to forget that they are turning a year older. Adding another year has never bothered me, which my sister didn’t understand (although now she’s on my side). She used to fall into the “Oh, no, another birthday” category. My attitude is, “Wait—my family and friends will give me cards and presents, we’ll have a little celebration, people will tell me they’re glad I’m part of their lives, I’m going to eat cake and ice cream and chocolate—and I’m supposed to be depressed?” Never made any sense to me.

That’s because things might have turned out differently.

It happened that there was a complication just before I was born. I can’t remember when I first heard the story, but as an adult, I began to think more seriously about it.

Dad brought Mom to the hospital on her due date. Her labor had begun, but it stopped. Her obstetrician, Dr. Julius Gray, a man of integrity and great skill whom my parents respected highly, visited Mom the next day and said that if I were not born on the following day, Monday, he would deliver me on Tuesday—though not by Caesarean section, which was less common in those days.

Monday arrived, but I didn’t. On Tuesday, Dr. Gray spoke with my father just before going to the delivery room. According to Dad, the doctor said, “We’re going up now, Mr. McDonnell. In cases like this, usually we save the mother. Sometimes we lose the baby.”

Dad said that he replied, “Doctor, it’s in your hands.” He was upset, of course. He and Mom had been married less than two and a half years, and I was their first child. It must have seemed that everything Dad held dearest was suddenly on the edge.

He called my Mom’s sister, whom he worked with in a local business owned by my uncles. Auntie immediately went to the hospital to wait with Dad.

At the time, Mom worked at the hospital as a medical stenographer. After Dad and Auntie had waited for a while, a young woman who was one of Mom’s colleagues ran breathlessly into the room where they sat and announced, “Everything’s fine! It’s a girl! Don’t tell them I told you!” and ran out. Not a bad birth announcement. And she was right: I was healthy and well, and so was Mom.

I don’t know how much danger I had been in, and I don’t assume that the odds were heavily against me. I do know that my life could have ended before I saw the light of day, and I thank God that it didn’t. I’ll take every additional year I can get, because every one is a year that might not have been.

Of course, there is the fact of growing older, of knowing that there are far more birthdays behind me than ahead of me. I focus instead on the meaning and message of Easter. The Lord who suffered and died for our salvation has risen to new life, and offers that new life to us. That’s the symbolism of the Paschal Candle that burns in the sanctuary during every Mass in the Easter season, a symbol of joy and hope.

I was given yet another birthday gift: I arrived on the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist. Having spent my professional life, very happily, in the Catholic press, I like to think that it was a sign. It’s one more reason for me to rejoice each year as I light those birthday candles and say, “Thank you.”


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