Grandson Cole showed up at 4:30 Monday, just after my siesta—an hour of what Winston Churchill called “blessed oblivion.” With the exception of a kink in my neck, I seemed to be living within a cleansing breath. Rested. Peaceful.
Cole, on the other hand, was fresh off a visit to the doctor for vaccinations. The poor little poop took hits in both thighs. Daughter Elena said infants generally have two reactions to injections. They either conscientiously object by sleeping through the process or scream as though they had been knifed. Cole opted for the latter in a display that his mom imagined would for an adult have constituted finger pointing and expletives.
The result: Cole napped off the effrontery in his car seat, which was perched on the dining room table. While wife Kathy, Elena, and son-in-law Matt huddled in the kitchen to discuss how they might rip away at cabinetry to make room for a new refrigerator, I hovered over my grandson. His profile reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe because of the exertion, his cheeks were puffy, and the tip of his tongue stuck out—micro-raspberries blown at the man and his pricky needles.
I beheld for a minute, then did what I always do: rested my lips and nose like a feather on the top of his head and breathed in. My lungs were at once filled with . . . well, here’s the problem. There are no words for what takes up fleeting residence in me.
People marvel about how great babies smell, but their sacrament reaches way past our noses. A grandmother I know once gave the perfect response to looking at, holding, and smelling a baby. She scrunched up her round face, put fists beside her cheeks, trembled, and squealed, “Ooh, I just want to eat them up!”
Of course, not really eat them, as Jonathan Swift clowned in A Modest Proposal. More like receiving eucharistic baby-ness. Infant cup. Child bread of life. I’m not speaking figuratively. I mean this: When I run my finger across Cole’s cheek, look into his blue eyes, trace the delicate shape of his crying mouth, and rest my lips and nose against his sleeping head, I want to take the fundamental cole-ness of Cole into myself, to unite with his his-ness.
My grandson evokes in me a soul response. If I were the only parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or whatever adult to feel this bottomless longing toward an infant, I’d keep quiet, but my experience is close to universal. What is it about little ones that draws us close and takes hold of our eyes and won’t let go? If you put the Coleman family at the Taj Mahal, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the regular Gardens of Versailles, or, say, the Garden of Eden, we’d all look in amazement for a minute or two, then turn back toward Cole: “Aw, how’s the Cole-slaw, the Cole-meister, the Cole-o-rama, the Cole-mobile? How’s the widdle boody boody boo?”
Correct me if I’m wrong. What in heaven’s name is it about babies? On Monday as I stared at, kissed, and inhaled my grandson, an answer gave itself to me. Infants are new arrivals from eternity. They come from where we numb adults came from, and I believe they also come from where we are going. They were in the indescribably strong, gentle bosom of Forever, receiving milk and love songs from our cosmic Parent of Grace.
That’s it! That’s what I feel on my lips and breathe in as if my spirit were suffocating: Cole still has on his head the kisses of our Creator and on his cheeks whispered promises of mercy. The perfume hasn’t worn off yet. That’s it!
And I wonder: Did Cole hear my college friend Ken Sonnenberg–gone a year after graduation in a six-week gale of lymphoma–reading poems that may visit Pennsylvania as soothing breezes? Did he hear Fred Rogers say, “You’re going to be the only person in the world just like you, and people can like you just the way you are”? Sweet Lord! Did the cole-ness of Cole brush up against my mother in the vast lap of God?
Okay, this is a theological mess and a potential heresy, but I’m going with it. What better explanation? In that slight kiss on Cole’s head—and when you kiss your baby’s head?—I view worldly wonders, embrace every person I’ve loved, and dwell in the soft thunder of God’s heartbeat. I disappear into blessed oblivion with my recent immigrant from Mystery.
Finally Cole woke up, dull and dazed. Is it still a shock when he opens his eyes to our faces? He stared at me. He does that a lot. The kid knows a jester when he sees one. So I sang Marvin Gaye’s hymn “Got to Give It Up”—yes, in unapologetic falsetto:
I used to go out to parties
And stand around
‘Cause I was too nervous
To really get down
And my body yearned to be free
So I got up on the floor and found
Someone to choose me
No more standin’ along side the walls
Now I got myself together, baby,
And I’m havin’ a ball
Cole tracked me as I danced, probably confused about his new residence and all of our cackle and fuss. Not one smile for Gramps. No matter. Grandma Kathy bent close and said, “How’s my best buddy?” That got us a half-smile from his Buddha face. Plenty. More than enough. Eternity sighed in my chest.
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