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Arts & Life

During a season of miracles, one, in particular, stands out

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The miracle baby came to our house for Christmas.

Which seems appropriate, since we were in what many of us believe to be a season of miracles.

Even if you don’t believe that you probably believe in the joys of the Christmas season, of family gatherings, of gift exchanges, and of love.

We shared all that a bit early this Christmas season with my family — my two adult children, Casey and Meghan, their spouses, Wendy and Thad, and their children, Emerson and Bodhi, Philip and May.

They’re all little miracles in their own way, those kids, and they brought joy and love to our four-day family gathering here in Rapid City. just a few days prior to Christmas.

I’ll focus a bit on the youngest at the gathering, however. Because May Elizabeth Roche is the one who had to fight the hardest to get here.

And when I say “here,” I mean this corporeal world and this life so many take for granted. Her journey to life was in jeopardy from the start. The fact that she made it through dangerous, difficult nine-plus months in the womb is a testament to her grit, to her mother’s love and determination, to her father’s rock-solid support, and to a gifted surgeon named Dr. Les Heddleston. He performed intrauterine surgery at 20 weeks to save my daughter’s pregnancy and to save May’s life.

And, Hallelujah!, on March 11, 2020, a child was born who would not otherwise have been.

She has since become known in our family as the miracle baby.

But since her birth, I’ve barely had a chance to see May. Because when she was born, COVID was spreading across our nation, shutting things down and raising our fears. Initially, we didn’t know much about how children, especially babies, would do if they contracted the virus. So Meghan was extra-careful, as you might expect, and didn’t take May out much for a long time.

Meghan also worried before the vaccines were available, about bringing the virus to her dad and mother-in-law.

On top of that, I got sick, or whatever you call what I got earlier this year. And my focus was on doctors and tests here in Rapid City and doctors and tests at the Mayo Clinic and more doctors and tests and various types of therapy back here in Rapid City.

All of which made Meghan worry even more about infecting me with COVID.

And, because of my symptoms, travel is unusually hard for me. So I don’t do much and don’t go far.

I got to see May briefly here and there in stops going to and coming from Mayo. But I never got to hug her — really hug her — or spend any extended periods of time with her, until this Christmas season.

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The season of miracles.

Meghan and Thad, Philip and May came for four days just before Christmas. So did Casey and Wendy, Emerson and Bodhi. Everyone except May was fully vaccinated against COVID, and she’s too young for the shots, so far.

But I have no doubt when the medical experts say the time is right, May will get her shot or shots, too. Her mom takes care of things like that.

Meanwhile, I got long, luxurious hugs from the miracle baby, and got to know her on a personal level not possible on FaceTime.

And along with their other Christmas gifts, Emerson, Bodhi, and Philip each got the $10 that Grandpa Kevin and Grandma Mary pay any of our grandkids — I have four; Mary has 14 — who get their COVID shots.

Almost all of them have earned the money already.

Emerson, Bodhi, and Philip were delighted by the cash. Their parents, who are committed to finding the best way to beat COVID through science and medicine and responsible behavior, loved the idea.

That was especially true of Casey and Wendy, who live the COVID realities every day as emergency doctors at an inner-city hospital in the Twin Cities. Things are tough there these days. Really tough. The place is packed. And most of the people who have died of COVID or who are dying of COVID or who are hospitalized in critical condition with COVID weren’t vaccinated.

So many serious illnesses, Casey and Wendy lament, and so many deaths that could have been avoided just by getting the shots and modeling more responsible behavior.

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It wears on them, the weight of their responsibilities, and the frustration that so much of the misery didn’t have to be. They needed a break. And I think they found one here, with the feasts and desserts prepared by Mary, the visit to Custer State Park, the hike up into the Hanson-Larsen trail system, and a trip with the kids and their beaming faces to the Christmas light display at Storybook Island.

There was other stuff, too, of course, including Watiki, and stuff that’s simple and free and also fun, like the playground at Wilson School.

What a delightful respite it was for them. But now they’re back in the fight against the virus up in St. Paul, hoping to get more help in the form of more responsible behavior from adults. Meghan and Thad are back in Sioux Falls, doing catch-up chores for their legal jobs in the federal justice system, where they do their part to help the system work for all.

And after the sad, yet-grateful “see you” moments to my bunch out in the driveway, we got ready for the second half of our Christmas celebration, when Mary’s kids and grandkids showed up. First, there was the annual gingerbread-decorating day for the kids, then a Christmas Day celebration, with more good food and presents — and more joy and love.

Which is, of course, its own kind of miracle, one that happens every year.