One of the problems with living in a media-saturated culture is that we often become focused on the big headlines and forget that small headlines can be written at any moment. Big headlines are stories that echo from coast to coast: the presidential election, the war on terror, and the Boston Red Sox World Series win. Small headlines are events of lasting significance that happen right in front of us. And like other forms of breaking news, they sometimes catch everyone involved completely by surprise.
In my case, there was no reason to think anything extraordinary was going to happen when some friends came to dinner recently. It was supposed to be a routine social gathering, low key and relaxing. Nobody had a clue how wrong those assumptions were.
The special guest was a cousin-in-law who happened to be seven months along with her first pregnancy. She looked great and said she was going to wait until the birth to find out whether she'd be raising a boy or a girl. We all found out a short time later.
There were a few hints that, in retrospect, should have tipped off somebody at the table to the fact that our situation was entering a phase that the folks at NASA would call "go for liftoff." But the dinner proceeded without complication. Then the expectant mom excused herself from the table and, after about 15 minutes, my spouse knocked on the bathroom door and said, "Is everything OK?"
The response was, "I don't think so."
At that point, we began to cross historical thresholds. My wife ran to the phone and made her first-ever 911 call. Moments later, I could hear sirens in the distance as I moved rugs and other potential tripping hazards away from the front door and the hallway.
The crew of rugged guys who showed up looked as if they had just driven in from an episode of "The OC." My first thought was, "Are they going to ask me to boil some water?" That's what people were told to do in movies and TV shows when I was growing up. But no, these boys wanted towels, and we scrambled to oblige as they hurriedly unpacked their gear and took charge of the bathroom.
It was perhaps two minutes later that I heard one of them say, "The baby's here!"
The new family member was a little girl, 3-1/2 pounds, and I caught a glimpse of her wrapped in a blanket as she was whisked out to the ambulance, followed quickly by Mom on a gurney.
Baby Sidney is fine, and we expect her to be sent home fairly soon. If she ever asks me what her arrival was like, I will say it was a moment when all the big stories and complicated issues of the world suddenly shrank to insignificance, and the only thing that mattered was a small group of very surprised people doing their best to get one new life off to a successful start.
And we did.
• Jeffrey Shaffer is an author and essayist who writes about media, American culture, and personal history.