There was an evening soon after Carolyn was born that I happened upon my high school yearbook. I was shuffling the artifacts of my life from one cardboard box to another when I stopped to leaf through the pages of not-so-long ago. In the final pages, just before the index, was a section devoted to purchased “ads” featuring darling photos of the graduating seniors as babies with notes from loved ones proclaiming their pride over reaching this important milestone. I had read these messages and looked over the photos many times before, but this time, with my own baby sleeping soundly near, I had new eyes.
These were no longer just friends or familiar faces I had passed in the hall, sat beside in history, studied with for Algebra. As I looked at the bright eyes, the chubby cheeks, the clapped hands, the open smile – I realized these people were first someone’s baby. I realized that before they were “hot” or “funny” or “weird” or “popular” they belonged to a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle who loved them deeply. I cried over this realization. I cried standing in my laundry room over a cardboard box of dusty yearbooks partly because I had a host of hormones racing through me, but mostly because I realized that every person I had passed in the hall was someone’s baby, was a treasured soul, and I had missed it.
Now, nine years later, this all came back to me as I sat in the nursery on Sunday morning, serving alongside my Julia. She loves to help with the babies, to hold and rock them, to pat their bellies and make them laugh. Babies are pretty great, on this we both agree. But babies are not like adults, and here is where my learning starts (again).
My recent obsessive internal monologue has revolved around my own perceived awkwardness, my inability to think of something clever to say, my stern expression and take-charge approach to pretty much everything – my longing to just be gentle. Until my Sunday morning nursery experience I had thought this was, perhaps, an impossible task. But then, for the briefest moment in the nursery, I was able to observe myself with these sweet babies and I saw someone unfamiliar. With these babies I can think of countless things to discuss, simple things but never awkward or forced. I can invite them to feel welcome with a smile, I gladly give up my personal space and comfort at their expense. And what do I expect in return; spit up down my arm, a smile on occasion, a dirty diaper – it makes no difference. None.
I realized that the distance between my discomfort with nearly every human over the age of about five, and the selfless love I feel when I am with a baby has much to show me about what I expect to give and what I hope to get in return.
What if I could see every person in the way I see a baby; as a treasure, belonging to someone, if not a parent than even more so to God? What if I could abandon my need to impress or even leave any impression at all? What if it is not about me but instead about keeping my eyes open to the needs of those around me, genuinely asking about their wellbeing and listening when they reply? What if I could surrender the need for feedback and praise, and enter each conversation knowing that sometimes things go well and sometimes people, young and old alike, need something that I simply cannot give? Perhaps I could relax a little more, be gentler, and did I mention relax?