Be the mother of thousands, gazelle of my heart.
May the sons of your virginity seize the gate of all who hate them.

– Frederick Buechner’s “Son of Laughter”

It wasn’t that late, maybe eleven o’clock, but my girlfriend had already fallen asleep beside me in bed. I stayed awake for half an hour reading, then decided to check my email one final time before turning out the light. There was a message waiting from my mother, subject line perched like a crow of dread. “Not sure you had heard…”

The message that followed was third hand. Earlier that day one of my oldest friends, a burly, gregarious fellow I grew up playing music with, had shown up for an evening service at my hometown church in tears.

I read the email fearfully, unable to stop scanning yet not wanting to arrive at whatever horrible revelation I could feel rearing up ahead of me. I finally got to the place where my mother explained what had upset my friend so much.

That morning his sister, Sarah (I’ve changed her name) and her husband had woken to find that their young daughter had died during the night. When I read the line where my mother said that their little girl “had not woken up,” I sat up in bed, pole-axed by disbelief.

“What?” I said out loud.

Then I got out of bed, walked into the kitchen, leaned on the sink, and cried.  Sarah was the first girl I ever fell in love with.
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