In 2002 Spike Lee came out with the compelling film 25th Hour. Edward Norton plays the lead, a convicted drug felon who has 24 hours of freedom before his seven-year sentence in jail begins. The film moves at a slow, anxious pace even as it careens toward that hour of surrender.
In the fall of 2008, I became pregnant with our son. Let me explain how these two are related. We were newlyweds and terrifically excited at the news of becoming a family but, very quickly, our joy was muffled when Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) entered our lives. HG is a rare condition of pregnancy that causes severe, debilitating nausea and vomiting. This is not your garden-variety morning sickness. It is not unusual for a woman with HG to vomit 40 times a day and to become completely bedridden for several months, if not her entire pregnancy. After a few weeks of having to rush to the ER for fluids, a feeding tube was inserted in my arm that kept me and the baby fed through the first 13 weeks of the pregnancy, when the HG began to dissipate.
It’s difficult to explain HG to people, how agonizingly slow every second crawls by and how unrelentingly intense the nausea is. But what’s even more difficult to explain is the fear of HG after one has lived through it.
Since the birth of our son, I have been pregnant several more times. It’s those days between a positive pregnancy test and the onslaught of HG that brings 25th Hour to mind. The time frame for HG is different for every woman, but for me, the sickness begins anywhere from five to seven weeks into my pregnancy. I don’t write all of this for sympathy, though if there are other HG sufferers out there, I encourage you to contact me so we can grieve, commiserate, and pray together.
I write about all of this because we are all living before our 25th hour, but the comfort of our lives makes us forget that there is an accounting for how richly and purposefully we have lived. As double lines appear on my pregnancy tests, my countdown to the 25th hour begins. I know the comforts I take for granted—breathing fresh air, reading a book, carrying my daughter around on my hip—will be stripped from me.
Life is different before that 25th hour. I say yes to playing with my kids more. My writing is more productive. My husband and I have better conversations. All the common activities of my daily life become uncommon and special. The same is true for Edward Norton’s character in the film. He fills the 24 hours leading up to his surrender with walking his dog, taking a long drive with his dad, hanging with his buddies, and being with his girlfriend. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he lives each moment with an awareness of how extraordinary the ordinary is. In reviewing the film, Roger Ebert begins with a quote from Boswell’s Life of Johnson: “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
When I know I am to be hanged in a fortnight, the things I fill my days with are not special except for my awareness of how painfully I will miss them. I swoop up my daughter again and again in the middle of that hop-skip-almost flying of hers, just to hear her squeal with delight. My son and I spend exquisite evenings together, making critical comments on design choices in home improvement shows while eating snacks way past his bedtime. I drink expensive coffees, take long walks, eat huge meals, and go out in the world and see other people. Every ordinary thing feels like a gift.
That time waiting and expecting makes me grateful for the small things like waking up nausea-free, listening for crickets at dusk, and wrapping fingers around a hot mug of coffee on the porch in the afternoon. Every second before the 25th hour approaches is a prayer. Sitting on the porch in the morning watching my children play, I finger the sharp edges of a rosary in my pocket and pray that God will get me through, that I will not feel alone and abandoned. I marvel in the here and now in a way my regular days never suggest is deserving or necessary.
I hate the 25th hour, but I recognize the grace of it. That time when my mind is so wonderfully concentrated on what lies ahead of me gives me an almost mystical perspective. As much as I would like to forget the entire experience of HG when I finally move past it, an awareness that every second of my regular, boring life is a beautiful gift is something I would do well to take with me. And I know that after that terrible accounting, what I’m left with is nothing less than the miracle of life. I count my blessings because, truly, there are greater burdens than this.
Molly Jo Rose’s column, In and Of the World, focuses on finding God’s goodness in the darkest places of the world.