I've always believed in signs, if we listen closely, they are everywhere. On this day, last year I found myself in scrubs, at St. Joseph's Hospital waiting for my signal to enter a delivery room.
Before this moment, I was attending a Flying Lotus show in New York. Left work at 6pm and rushed over to Terminal 5. I was out by midnight, it was pouring rain and then my phone rang.
My cousin Carol was on her way to the hospital, a month before her due date. She requested, early on in her pregnancy, that I be present with her at the hospital when the time came for the twins arrival. Yes, TWINS!
It was exciting, however, the diagnosis wasn't positive for one of the two babies. it was detected that one of the twins was at risk for Anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. My cousin was determined to continue the pregnancy, against the odds.
TIME. This is what I learned most about over the course of the next hour at the hospital.
I worked a full-time job while balancing the chaos of rent, bills and a growing photography business. I worked long days and even longer nights. I was trying. I wasn't doing what I loved full-time but I managed. After 4 years in the same bubble, I was going with the motions at that point. My circumstance was what I made it, I felt trapped.
I waited in the hall for the signal. I had no idea what i was walking into, it was quiet. I don't know how me and my camera ended up here, but for some reason this is where I was supposed to be in that moment. Lionel and Leah were born. Leah was healthy as expected and Lionel was in a race with time. Both born with heartbeats, they were separated and we enjoyed the short time we had with Lionel.
Lionel lived for 27 minutes.
FAITH. I went into this room with no expectation. I was not in control and I surrendered every part of me to this experience. I had a duty to capture what was about to happen. This responsibility changed my life. It shifted me. When Carol and Leonardo (mother and father) met baby Lionel for the first time, there was nothing but love. It was the moment they most anticipated and also were afraid to face. Nonetheless, this was a miracle.
STRENGTH. I watched a room full of doctors, a priest and new parents welcome their new-born children into this world with open arms and full hearts. I've experienced unconditional love in bits and pieces but I had a full dose of it on this day. I watched loved ones lose a tiny part of their hearts on that day. I could feel the heartbreak but they remained strong and optimistic. They too surrendered themselves to this experience, they let go.
Before giving birth, Carol decided to turn tragedy into triumph, in the event of the outcome that was expected. She donated Lionel's organs via The NJ Sharing Network. When I spoke to her she reassured me this was how it was meant to be.
Lionel was the first newborn in the United States to donate all of his organs for the advancement of education through research. This would help benefit the healthy lives of other infants in the future. Lionel is our hero.
LIFE. I believe I walked out of that delivery room forever shifted. Those were the most meaningful minutes of my life, to date. To see life come and go is the most fragile of occurrences. Witnessing that awakened something in me. I felt, I cried but I was so grateful for life. I watched the immense gratitude his parents had for the miracle that he was. There wasn't an ounce of numbness in my body. I felt every emotion and the strongest of them all was LOVE.
That week TIME stood still. I dropped everything going on in my life, the things I once stressed about, the things that preoccupied all of my time, to be a part of something bigger than me. I made the choice to be present for my family in this special time and it was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. The way life brought Lionel into my life was a sign.
In the following months after Lionel left us, I took the lessons he and his parents imprinted on me to heart. I quit my job, I traveled two countries and I reinforced how I spent my time. I was as fearless as ever, I made sure to live my purpose and knew exactly what that was. I almost gave up on my passion because of what I thought my life had to be, but I learned that I make my life what it is and I could never give up on the one thing that live for . . . Photography.
I was able to use my instruments to impact someones life. Because of my passion and purpose I was able to show everyone just how impactful Lionel was for all of us. He was everything I needed and for that, I will always be indebted to his spirit. Today marks a year to the date that life really began for me and ended for him. And I can't begin to tell you all of the signs I have been presented with. Surrender, love, grow, use your strength and enjoy every minute . . . it's all worth it in the end.
Happy Birthday Lionel. Tia Loves you.