In 2008 I came across an online article about a doctor in Memphis named Sheldon Korones. The article was about the infant mortality rate in Memphis, Tennessee.
Infant mortality is defined as children who die before their first birthday. In Memphis, that was about 15 out of every 1,000 births—double the national average and worse than in some Third World countries even. The article listed the reasons for death—premature births, heart defects, crib death, suffocation from sleeping on their stomachs, malnutrition, dangers in the home, etc. The reasons are varied and the solutions are not simple.
The article then introduced an 83-year old Memphis doctor named Sheldon Korones who'd been leading the fight for Memphis's tiniest residents.
Korones started the newborn intensive care unit at Memphis's Regional Medical Center in 1968. At the time the article was written, Korones had been working on Memphis's infant mortality problem for 40 years...
40 years on one problem.
40 years in one place.
40 years of dedicated passion in the same direction.
The article mentioned that his neo-natal unit had seen 48,000 babies in that time span. When the unit was started, about 25% of the babies admitted there died. By 2008, they were only losing about 2% of babies. Sheldon was a one-man wrecking crew, slowly chipping away at Memphis's terrible baby death problem.
Korones' passion and old-man grit were evident:
"I've watched this problem since the days of LBJ," he says. "I've gone to meeting after meeting and we're saying the same damn thing we said back there. I started as a man possessed. And I remain a man possessed."
"A man possessed." I was falling in love with Sheldon Korones.
And then this...
"Korones, who is 83 years old, speaks in a whisper and literally laughs off the question of retirement, is still this city's foremost expert on infant deaths, and he seems haunted by the problem's intractability.
He filled out a psychiatric questionnaire once. One of the questions was: What gives you the most pleasure?
His answer was: Turning blue babies pink."
My eyes fixated on those last three words—blue babies pink—as if a divine highlighter descended from heaven and began furiously illuminating that one phrase. Never in my life had I been so gripped by an obscure phrase in a random online article.
Three words: blue babies pink.
I couldn't quit looking at them. I stopped reading the article and began to roll that phrase around in my mind.
I was struck by the beauty of the phrase, the visuality of it.
I was struck by the redemptive and humanitarian nature of it.
I was struck by thick fingers on leathery hands reaching into a ventilator to care for these precious, God-breathed souls trapped in frail, helpless bodies.
I was struck by this grey-haired patriarch of medicine using his passion to bring life back into these tiny broken beings.
"Blue Babies Pink."
And then I saw myself.
I saw myself—helpless—lying in that hospital, surrounded by ventilator cords and the steady beeping of life-saving machinery.
In 2008, I felt like one of those infants, struggling to survive. In the mirror I saw a 26-year old man on spiritual life support. I saw a barely-alive soul in desperate need of help, in desperate need of big strong hands.
I saw a blue baby that needed to be pink.
I didn't even know what pink looked like though. Maybe pink was to desire the beauty of a woman. Maybe pink was finding contentment in a lifetime of singleness. Maybe pink was being okay with it all. Blue babies don't know what they need and they can't really help themselves. They don't know how to get pink. But I knew I was very, very blue.
And so I prayed.
I prayed for the day when the blood would rush back into cold blue fingers. I prayed for the day when my lungs would fill on their own. I prayed for big yawns and outstretched arms. I prayed for pink..in whatever form God wanted.
People who say God spoke to them kinda freak me out, so, as a matter of principle, I don't say, "God told me ________." But after I read that article, it felt like—FELT LIKE—I heard...
Brett, this is it. This is your story. This is the story I've been writing, the one others need. You don't know how it will end. Don't worry about that. But one day, you will tell this story.
Maybe that was God speaking, maybe not. I don't really know. But I know I felt it so strongly that I went and bought the url bluebabiespink.com.
I did a WHOIS lookup on it recently to see exactly when I bought it.
"Creation Date: 30-mar-2008"
And so for eight years, I owned a URL, not fully knowing how or when it would be used. But I knew the day would come when it was time to tell my journey of going from blue to pink.
If you've been reading Blue Babies Pink, thank you.
Thank you for listening. Thank you for letting me feel heard after so many years of hiding a hurricane in my heart.
Hundreds of you have messaged me saying you've connected with the story in different ways.
I've heard from many LGBT people who've said, "Thank you for putting into words what I've felt for so long."
And I've heard from countless straight people who see their own stories of shame, abuse, loneliness, or hurt. Each one reminds me that our stories of darkness can be someone else's light. And that brings me irrepressible joy. Irrepressible.
I hope you've realized by now that BBP isn't really about the gay thing...
It's about uninviting Fear from the table God set for us.
It's about looking Shame in the eye and rolling up our sleeves.
It's about burying Sadness and planting seedlings of gratitude on its grave each morning.
It's about the death of Forced Silence and reaching for a megaphone.
It's about the journey from dead to alive, from asleep to woke, from cold to warm.
And it's about going from blue to pink.
Shine On, You Crazy Diamonds,
B.B.P.S. - Blue Babies Pink is dedicated to Sheldon Korones and his half-century legacy of advocating for Memphis's most vulnerable citizens. Mr. Korones died in 2013 at the age of 89. You can read his obituary here.
B.B.P.P.S. — I’ve gotten lots of messages from people confused by the end of Blue Babies Pink. I spent the last year creating a resource that answers a lot of those questions. It’s called BBP Plus, and you can learn all about that here. (ALSO! Use promo code BBPFINISHER for 10% off.)