I was born this way hey! I was born this way hey!
I'm on the right track baby, I was born this way hey!
Lady Gaga's throbbing, theatrical voice looped through me, over and over and over again ... for days. And let it be said, the song loop was no worm in my ear. It was more like a unicorn romping her way through me - inside and out - reverberating as truth. That’s the achievement of the song itself says music critic Rob Sheffield: "The more excessive Gaga gets, the more honest she sounds."
That unicorn that romped through me was nothing if not excessive. Enough already, I would think, and she would go some more. She insisted on being heard and felt.
Every now and then I've actually met a unicorn, and I want to tell you about one whom I had the privilege to know. I will call her Celeste. She recently lost her life to cancer.
Celeste was a physician. A pediatrician, in fact. In close proximity to the weeks when she accepted the offer of her first official, non-med student, non-resident, legit, professional job, she was diagnosed with aggressive, life-altering, life-foreshortening cancer. Soon, she reached out to me. We met from the early days of her treatment up to and including the afternoon before she died. I received a text the following day: "Celeste died this morning."
Her family welcomed a visit from me later that afternoon. For the first time, I set foot into Celeste's world. In the enclosure of our work together, she and her world were very much in my mind. But it was only hours after she died that this world we'd created took on new life - within the world that had been created long before we ever met. When I visited with her family - her sister, and her parents - it occurred to me to ask about Celeste's birth.
Dad told the story something like this:
From her earliest days in the womb, we knew she was special. Limbs pushed and poked out in ways both visible and miraculous. A wild shock of hair announced her presence as loudly as and just before her first cries. In her first hours with us on the outside, a well-meaning neo-natologist stopped by to deliver some news:
We're looking at ____ here. Your child may not ____.
And will most likely ____. It's possible ____.
Some of them turn out that way.
The message was abrupt, and so was the doctor's departure. He left mom, dad, big sister, and baby to find their own way. With some help, they did.
Early on, Celeste knew she was different, and her difference was not something she could hide. As a child, she became an easy target for bullies and an object of glances and glares. Her parents helped as best they could, and it seems, they did a pretty job of it. They supported her through innumerable medical tests, and then later in schools for gifted and talented children and adolescents. In middle school, when Celeste announced she wanted to be a doctor and named the college where she intended to begin her studies, her parents got behind her plan.
On a few occasions, when Celeste dyed her hair unicorn colors, they got out of her way. On days they didn’t understand, and maybe didn’t approve, they did the best they could to manage their discomfort and keep supporting their child. When she needed them most, they were there. Celeste bore with them, even when they annoyed or disappointed or frustrated her - and vice-versa. They were always parents and child finding their way.
There was also Celeste's sister who had preceeded her in birth. As with most siblings, there were tear-apart events and there were events that bound them together. Once, big sister tried to help younger sister with a bit of a kitchen clean-out. Big sister strenuously advised that Celeste let go of a unicorn mug:
It’s atrocious! You really should get rid of this thing!
And there was no way, really. How could Celeste part with this massive, bowl-shaped white ceramic vessel? Its red horn poking straight out one side, and its primary-colored rainbow tail swooping around the other to form the handle. The unicorn mug stayed put.
Celeste's family found their way into and through and around one another's lives. Celeste found her way in and through and around her family, her friends, her colleagues, her patients and their families. When the end of her life came sooner and more awfully than any of them could have ever imagined, they found their way as best they could in and through and around all of that, too.
When I think about the birth narrative her parents shared on the day she died, it seems so poignant to me: how profound beginnings (and endings) can be.
A child’s narrative can begin in so many ways ...
A child who is "long-yearned for." Or, a child who is not "wanted."
A child with a "high IQ." A child who is vulnerable to autoimmune disease.
A child with a "dark skin tone." A child whose eyes "look like their father's."
Maybe a child who is "healthy and happy," or perhaps one with a "defective gene."
And, the child who is a "surprise."
And finally, no matter who says what, a child who is beautiful and magic and loved:
I was born this way, hey!
Apparently unable to avoid the psychadelic Gaga, I went on an expedition to find her "Born this Way" original music video. At over seven minutes long, it is an odyssey in itself; it is complete with its own 2 and a half minute birth-narrative prologue. The prologue is an art piece inside an odyssey inside an expedition ensconsed in pulsating neon color and sound. The pink triangle is notable, at the beginning and the end. I will save the endless observations and references and analyses to the experts.
I will say, when I first clicked “play,” I got chills and my eyes welled with tears. The video’s opening image lasts only for a few seconds, but it is undeniably there. It returns for seconds at the end. There is A LOT going on in this video, and this particular image could be easy to miss. I first watched it after my visit with Celeste's family.
Lo and behold, for a total of about ten seconds at the beginning and end of the video, a dazzling, sparkly unicorn appears. A dazzling. Sparkly. Unicorn. All I can say is, I believe.
With gratitude for Celeste and her family