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Agnostic prayers for an infirm infant

  • 13 March 2013

It takes us a long time to realise the world is not made for us, and that despite the apparent invincibility of youth we do not remain proof against misfortune forever. Even when things seem to be going well, we are often reminded we are suspended by a thread over a pit of chaos. Sometimes the thread snaps; sometimes it doesn't.

My third grandson was born in Athens last week. A trouble-free pregnancy and a fairly easy and shortish labour resulted in Orestes, weighing in at a hefty 4kg.

But a bolt from the blue: within minutes of his birth, Orestes was discovered to have a malformed oesophagus. His mother was able to hold him for only a few minutes before he was whisked away for tests.

Within a short time he was transferred to St Sophia's Children's hospital where, at the age of only 19 hours, he underwent a two and a half hour operation.

I managed to arrive in time to sweat out the seemingly interminable vigil with my son; my daughter-in-law had to remain in the maternity hospital. I never want to endure such waiting again, all the while wondering what was going on behind the steel doors of the operating theatre that had swallowed up the precious little bundle.

At the same time I was conscious of people who are worse off. I suddenly remembered the sight of a young father playing with his toddler son in the front garden of Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital. They were both enjoying the game, despite the little boy's burden of a chemotherapy backpack and tube in his nose. And the father was bearing his own burden because he had to. Children's hospitals are very sobering places.

You have to hand it to the Greek family: at any one time there were at least six people waiting with us: Orestes' maternal grandfather, over from Crete, and assorted uncles and aunts. And they did a marvellous job of keeping spirits up: ours and their own.

Mobile phones rang from time to time; texts were sent. An English friend said she would light a candle for Orestes in Hexham Abbey, Northumberland. A devout Catholic friend living near me in the Peloponnese exhorted me, via text, to Say a prayer. Yes, I replied.

And, the ageing brain being such an odd thing, one for making wayward connections, I immediately remembered novelist Patrick White floundering on his back in farmyard mud, and