My nephew Dave and his wife Sylvia host a Misfits Thanksgiving Dinner every year. They invite friends and acquaintances to their home, people who live far from extended family. My husband and I attend when we can. For eighteen years, I’ve watched the event evolve from paper Chinette plates to the Good China. I’ve met about 50 of Dave and Sylvia’s friends. I’ve seen their friends marry and have children. It’s always a gathering of goodwill, with an element of sacred craziness brought on by a lot of people in a smallish space.
Dave and Sylvia asked me to say grace this year. I asked everyone to close their eyes and launched into what I thought was a kick-ass blessing. Midway through, I heard a kid stage whisper, “Dude, you’re supposed to close your eyes.” Right before I said “amen,” another child belched loudly. I laughed, thinking all prayers should end with such eloquence.
The best moment was with Shep, Dave and Sylvia’s two-year-old son.
Children are often shy around me and I guess I’m shy around them too. I understand dogs, cats, and bunnies, but kids are a mystery. Yet Shep and I have a bond. Maybe we share a genetic trend for silliness and infinite singing. Whatever it is, there is chemistry.
After dessert, my sister Judy and I wallowed on the couch like two whales. We stretched our sugar-stunned brains, trying to remember the words to a song from our childhood – The ABC Bunny. Judy Googled the song on her iPad. She found it on YouTube so we played it and sang along. “’A’ for Apple big and red, tra la la la la la la; ‘B’ for Bunny snug abed, etc.”
Then the best thing happened.
Shep heard us singing from across the room. His eyes grew wide. With intense focus, he galloped past his scattered toys and scrambled up onto me like I was a piece of furniture, a couch on a couch. He sat on me, staring at The ABC Bunny. He listened as Judy and I sang along. He studied the illustrations from the 1930’s, the same illustrations I remembered from my childhood. It was more than interest; it was reverence. I held him, feeling trust and delight settle in my lap. I didn’t want it to stop.
It has taken me a while to figure out why this moment held magic for me. Surely I’ve cried many times over Act Three of Our Town when Emily realizes that life and all its ordinary jewels rush by too fast. In an instant, fifteen years from now, perhaps I’ll click over to Shep with a walker and screech in a crone voice, “Do you want to sit on my lap and sing The ABC Bunny?” With any luck I’ll get to do this in front of his prom date. If he’s like his dad, he’ll roll his eyes while he secretly cherishes our family’s solemn agreement to love through laughter.
But I think it’s something more. When Sylvia was pregnant with Shep, she read David Whyte’s poetry to her belly. There’s a poem that claims that even the soap dish and the window latch are our friends. The kettle sings; “and the birds and the creatures of the world are unutterably themselves.” The poet reminds us: “Everything is Waiting for You.”
Did the poem infuse Shep in utero and give him the grace to convey the impossible gifts of existence? Maybe. But more so, I think he’s a natural. Unutterably himself. Maybe all children are. Maybe we are too, when we remember to be
So when I look in the mirror and see my wrinkly face, a face that still thinks burps during blessings are funny, I will remember. I will remember myself through the weight of a small boy in my lap—a boy who offers trust and delight by his mere and mighty presence; a boy who is certain that everything is waiting for him.