Monday, December 20, 2010

A Man's Reach

The blinds cut the winter sunshine into thick slices and they fall across my shoulder in long broad stripes. The movement of the rocking chair, forward and back, turns them into waves – reaching out and pulling back, a tide of light. Jackson is tilted in the crook of my arm, the rays making a halo of the soft fuzz on the top of his head.

He is, of course, an extraordinary child (as they all are to those to whom they belong). At six months old his coos float from the front of his mouth in long multi-syllabic strings and every so often he expels a deep breath from the top of his throat that sounds exactly like, "Hey!" When he does that while looking at me, I can’t help laughing out loud. Right now, though, he is quiet, mesmerized by the blinking links on the Christmas tree his great-grandmother hasn’t quite finished decorating. He stretches his fleshy pink hands toward them so slowly that the movement itself can’t be detected. What makes him reach? What makes him flex muscles he does not know he has, extend an arm which he can’t possibly understand is himself?

There is so much he has to learn. Walking will not be easy; there’s the whole balance thing to master. Talking, too, despite his adeptness at cooing, will take time; the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative (the "th" sound) that he will have to master to say his great-aunt’s name is a real booger. Someone will have to teach him the multiplication tables, state capitals and the difference between amphibians and reptiles. Using the toilet, using a straw, using chopsticks. How to drive a tractor, cast a fishing line, throw a change-up.

But, somehow, before he can sit up alone, the child knows how to reach.

It is Christmas and so thoughts of my baby, our baby lead me to thoughts of the other baby, the one we visualize with wisps of straw sprayed around his mostly-naked little body, the one completely nonplussed by the large animal nostrils hovering over his face or the brilliant angel-light shining into his just-opened eyes, the one with the stamp of otherworldliness all over him.
For what did he reach? The flash of the jewels on the robes of the Magi? The softness of his mother’s breast?

The better question, I suspect, the question whose answer could and should make a difference in the way we live our lives is this one: For what did he reach when he grew to be a man? When the reach was no longer instinctual or involuntary, toward what did Jesus stretch out his hands? The leprous, the lame, the blind, the dead. The unloved, the disenfranchised, the condemned. The fearful, the hungry, the tired. He stretched them out as far as they would go and then left us with instructions to follow his example.

Jackson is sitting on his great-grandmother’s knees. She bounces him up and down. They both laugh. He reaches for her glasses.He will not be a baby forever. He will grow up, become a man, redirect his reaching. And in the light of this December afternoon I can only watch him sparkle like the Christmas tree lights and pray that his reaching will not be toward things, but always toward others.

Copyright 2010

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