There is a baby in my life. His name is Dashiell, born almost five months ago, my grandson. I spend a lot of time looking at him. I can gaze into his eyes for hours and neither he nor I am embarrassed about that and look away. He gives me a sense of peace, especially when I am watching him sleep. I look at him and forget what day it is and what time it is and what I should really be doing right now.
Dashiell makes me smile, and laugh. He will crack a smile, then I will, then he starts to giggle and I join in, and then he cackles and I get going and we can’t stop. There is no reason for this, no one has told a joke or even made a humorous remark. We are just breaking up about us, the fact that we are together like this and isn’t it simply too, too much.
What amazes me is how much this boy is telling me, teaching me, guiding me, taking me into his world without trying to do anything, really. It is possible to be taught by an infant, saved by a child. This must be what Jesus was up to when he put a child into the midst of his overgrown disciples and said, “Unless you become like this . . . .”
A few days ago I was listening to an interview with Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, communities all over the world where people live as companions with men and women who are disabled. (It was living in a L’Arche community that so transformed the life of Henri Nouwen.)
Vanier was sitting with a man who had come to talk with him about his life. The man was “a bit glum,” Vanier said, “as we can all be at times.” While they were talking there was a knock at the door, and before he could say, “Come in,” a man walked in. Jean Claude would be considered Downs Syndrome, Vanier said. “But he walked in, shook my hand and laughed. Then he shook the hand of the other man and laughed, and he went out laughing.” And the glum soul said to Jean Vanier, “Isn’t it sad—children like that?”
What was truly sad, said Vanier, was that the man was so blind. “He could not see that Jean Claude was happy.”
Children come to us in many forms, and they can teach us how to be awake and alive. They can teach us how to laugh, how to be happy.