Friday, December 25, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 12-24-09
Jeff Gill

And Everything Changed

The baby was born, and everything changed.

I talked to a mother this week, here in Licking County. She and her husband began the paperwork for an international adoption, reaching out to a country where poverty and social norms combine to generate a disturbingly large number of babies without homes.

They will need two to three years to complete the whole process, and their plan is to request not a newborn, as so many do, more than are available, in fact, but to pursue a child who is already a few years old. A child who has not been adopted.

Which means, of course, by simple math and painful reality, that this child is born this week, or thereabouts. Already, but unknown, unknowably distant; God willing, as this all works out, a child is born to them in a land far away, but just now come into the world with tears and smiles and hope.

For this family to take in another child, since they have some of their own already, they will have to make adjustments. Some have already been made, others are in the works, a few more are contemplated. As experienced parents, they know the biggest adjustments are yet to come, for each child is unique, even if the experience of diapering is mindlessly the same.

When the baby enters your life, everything changes.

There’s something deep within almost everyone that makes the cry of a baby pull our attention and focus away from the most compelling reality show, off of our favorite activities, out of ourselves, and shift to asking “what does the baby need?” Even childless “civilians” know that tug, at the mind and in the heart. For some it is merely an irritation – “why doesn’t someone do something about that crying baby?” but for most it becomes a question – “what could I do to help?”

In an international adoption such as the one I heard about, there is a response to a cry not yet heard, by the prospective parents or indeed by anyone. It is, you could say, a hypothetical cry, of a child needing love and care and devoted attention. The idea that a child, anywhere, is lacking any or all of those things is hard to ignore; so hard to ignore, we mostly have to block out such awareness altogether, since to dwell on those ongoing forlorn cries is too much for any heart to bear.

Yet when you pick up a child and it stops crying, not necessarily because of anything you did (just as some of us pick up happy babies and they start crying because sometimes, that’s what babies do), that contented armful is the whole world for you in that moment. Peace, and love, and joy: and hope.

When you let a baby enter your life, everything will change.

A baby is the center of both the religious and secular celebration we all share, in certain ways, this week, because a baby means something, even when that child has no genetic or genealogical connection to us. A baby means promise and commitment and the future, even when those who should deliver on all those things walk away. And they do, sometimes.

A baby, not even born yet, can change your life; a baby, born long ago & far away, can change the world, your world, right now. In either case, it happens when you decide that your life is connected to something beyond yourself.

Then, everything changes.