19 February 2007

As Life Begins...

It’s circular, the way that death makes you think more about your life, and in turn, life evokes a greater awareness of death and all its meaning.

I am hopeful as I sit holding my son who’s all swaddled in a fleece blanket. His tiny back moves up and down as he gently breathes. There is so much life in these details that it’s impossible to miss. Even with all his humanity, Eli is life in the purest, most basic and beautiful form: soft, unblemished; a new little mind whose only thoughts are of hunger, sleep, and warmth. The idea of life has become so present to me these last three weeks. Eli’s life anew, my own life rearranged, and every life that will interact with his and enrich it or be enriched by the fact that he exists and has his own unique story.

This morning I received an email about a woman from our church named Janice who passed away on Friday. I’ve been thinking about her all afternoon. Though I never met her or even exchanged a handshake of “peace” with her across the aisle, I saw her there so many Sundays, always at the end of a row seated next to her husband Jim. Mostly I noticed her because for many months she wore a scarf tied around her head and there didn’t appear to be any hair underneath. Her scarves were always feminine and pretty, and her skin was rosy and light. Other than seeming a bit weary, she was strikingly beautiful in a way you don’t imagine sick people being able to look. She had very warm eyes.

When we knelt to pray for the needs of our congregation during each service, Janice’s name was always on the list. No matter which names and requests came and went through the months, hers remained, and I always listened for it. Sometimes I wondered if it felt strange to her to kneel against the pew week after week and hear her own name read. When my father was sick with his cancer, our friend Al added our names and my dad’s to the prayer list, and to hear them out loud like that gave me chills.

Sometimes when I look at Eli, I can see the most profound glimpses of my father. Jeremy has noticed it too. It’s there in Eli’s curious blue eyes, though their color may still yet change, and the way his mouth falls open when he’s sleeping soundly… those are the moments when a memory of my dad comes rushing back in miniature form and brings a smile that’s tinged with sadness.

I also see a photograph of my dad and me. It was taken at the hospital on the day I was born, July 27th, which also happens to be Janice’s birthday, I learned in the email. My dad is dressed in light blue scrubs and is holding me, probably for the first time. I guess no one had told him that a newborn’s neck is weak, so his hands are clumsily cradling my back, and my head is wobbling backwards. My eyes are closed, but the way my head is angled makes it seem like I am looking up at him and he down at me. Our first official how-do-you-do.

Eli has a strong neck, and when on his stomach he will try to raise his head and look around. He reminds me of a baby bird when he does this. But other times, resting on his back in my arms, his head will drop back a bit and he’ll tip his little chin into the air and I will feel like I am looking at myself in that photograph with my father taken over thirty years ago. I had that photo with me the day that my dad died, so I can see it without actually looking at it now.

Being with Eli, thinking about my father and how desperately I wish he could be here to meet his grandson, and now hearing the news of a familiar stranger whose own children are mourning the loss of her…life continues on and on and it feels like a strange flood of things to grasp simultaneously. Without one, I’m sure I wouldn’t quite be so aware of the other.

While reading Janice’s story on her website today, I noticed a quote in the margin by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. It says:

"If someone isn't changed, then what is the point of your story? If you are no longer wracked or in bondage to a person or a way of life, tell your story. Risk freeing someone else."

16 February 2007

A study of ears

I relish these few moments of quiet while Eli dozes. Still in pajamas at noon (both of us), we are restful atop our giant raft, the bed, wrapped up in blankets. The space heater blows bursts of air from across the room, warming us and providing a backdrop of white noise to sleep by.

I peek into crevices. The minute dimples underneath tiny fingers, all ten with their own little dents and creases, just like mine only soft and ageless. The curves of baby ears. How often do you get close enough to really examine someone’s ears in detail? They seem miraculous to me, the lines and half-moons of folded skin all connected. And they hear things, so many for the very first time, I keep remembering.

I can whisper “shhh, shhhh” and there is a response. A calm sweeps over him and his eyes stop clenching and just close peacefully and his fist goes up in the air in a slow stretch.

He won’t remember any of this, in the same way that I don’t remember being three weeks old and having people peer at me with such wonder and amazement filling them up as I slept.

There is no work to be done. The laundry is folded and dishes put away. Somehow I’ve managed to keep up with those few things easily. There are no errands to run, no grocery lists, no projects in front of me. Only this: sitting and watching Eli sleep, and studying his tiny ears before he’s old enough to notice.

11 February 2007

Cold Coffee and Yo-Yo Ma

Asleep on my chest is a tiny bundle with a thick mop of dark brown hair sprouting up from its top. This is the perfect vantage point from which to examine him as he snoozes, making quiet snoring noises similar to baby pig grunts. Soft pink cheeks, new eyelashes, delicate ears with detached lobes like his daddy. A button nose that reminds me of a Peanuts character when viewed in profile. And a sweet little mouth that when not inhaling these gentle gusts of sleep, is either yawning, pursing, sucking, or faking a sideways grin.

Our nights with Eli Henry have been good so far. It seems he realizes that his father and I are new at this, and so has decided to go easy on us. We have actually had bouts of sleep lasting as many as five hours before he stirs again to ask for a clean diaper and a bit of milk. His requests are always the same.

And then there’s 5 AM. Lately Eli likes this early morning hour, deeming it his “awake time,” when his striking grey-blue eyes are wide to the world and he seems almost ready to open up his mouth and talk to us. We, of course, are in a sleep-haze, and that’s when we turn on the music. For a two-week old, he has exceptionally refined taste, preferring Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach to any other lullaby. If we do decide to sing, there is only one song that will do: “I Love My Socks,” made up on-the-spot by dad during a frantic diaper change our first week home.

I am sure that every new parent says this, but I truly can’t imagine life now without this little elf. It’s as if he’s always been here, cuddled up just inches away from my mug of tepid coffee and a bedside table that now hosts binkies and burp cloths and an alarm clock we have no need for. Our baby bird will wake us when it’s time to get up.