The choices new parents make around birth can feel terrifyingly political. The outpouring of opinions and advice can make it seem like the things we choose, and the things that happen to us, are reflections of our deepest character, of who we are and what we deserve. In certain arenas, people are quick to judge the choices of others, to assume that because they’ve read some book or article or study, they are wiser, better creatures. From this point of view, anything that happens to you is either support for or an attack on someone else’s agenda. Ryan Masters’s essay on the death of his newborn son, on the other hand, is simply a story. Startlingly, given the subject, Masters narrates with serenity, clarity, even literary beauty. It’s a story about love, and the way being parents together transforms love; though Masters and his wife were parents for only a few minutes, they were parents fully. It’s also a story about grief, and the way grief shapes communities: sometimes simply being present for someone else’s grief—more than advice, more than advocacy, more than wisdom or even practical service—is the truest expression of love. But this is not a story with a moral, not something to make sense of. This is simply something that happened in Keats’s “vale of soul-making.”
Ryan Masters has lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he received a Master of Arts in English at Liberty University. More of his work is upcoming in The Sun. In the Fall, he will begin a Master of Fine Arts program at Washington University in St. Louis, where he will study creative non-fiction writing.
I have been working on a non-fiction story cycle for a while now, and it has only recently been coming together. The stories will center on various spiritual traumas that have shaped my relationship with God: from my wife and I mourning the death of our first child, to my experience in the death care industry, to just plain old postgraduate ennui. I am beginning to write short fiction as well, which explores some of these same subjects.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.