A Child Is Born

‘I don’t like it when you write about any of that fluffy stuff.  If it’s a piece on trees and the sky and nature I don’t bother to read to the end.  It’s the same with babies; they’re of no interest to me until they are two or three-years old, only then do I bother to engage with them.’  He was brandishing his truth the way he sometimes does, like a claymore – swipe, swipe, swipe.  ‘Fair enough,’ I answered, ‘except for the babies.  How can you not love to see a new baby?’  That part of his swiping I didn’t believe – I’ve seen him with babies and he’s mad about them.  I don’t believe anyone who denies being disarmed, having their heart blown open, and cooing like a collared dove when they see, touch or hold a newborn.  Maybe some people don’t let themselves open up because one’s reaction to a new baby can sometimes be frightening.  Because here is what is rarely said: the joy of seeing a new baby can often be mixed with surprising, conflicting feelings; the newness, innocence and potential of a baby can lift the lid on emotions you thought had been securely sealed.

There is a beautiful poem by James Joyce where he describes his seesaw of sentiments on first meeting his new grandson.  He articulates the bitter-sweet moment when he first sets eyes on the baby – ‘With joy and grief / My heart is torn.’  Heart torn because Joyce was still mourning his own father, not long dead, and the juxtaposition of a new life layered upon his grief was scalding.  Scalding?  That’s the wrong word, for discomfort isn’t all bad.  Maybe the infant was more of a poultice to him, the new child helping him to let go of the old sadness.  Joyce sees that circumstances change year to year, events lean on us, then lift and fade, and he expresses in a simple and accessible way that even in the most joyous moments (for what’s better than meeting a new baby?) a sore can be opened, an old wound revisited.

Another poem that encapsulates a similar contradiction is an ancient haiku, by a Japanese Master, Matsuo Bashō.  In seventeen syllables, he expresses that subtle gnawing feeling that is so difficult to put words to: an inability to enjoy the moment for fear of losing the moment – the pain of attachment.  Kyoto is reputed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Japan and he speaks of the inability to enjoy the purity of the moment without that sliding feeling that it is passing or perhaps that something is missing.

Even in Kyoto,

hearing the cuckoo,

I long for Kyoto.

Babies and children and happiness abound at Christmas, and most everyone delights in the season’s cheer, but it’s also a time when echoes, longings and old attachments are revived, sneak up on you, tug and tear.  Sadness can hover around the edges of the most cheerful and festive times; you can be sure you are not the only one feeling it.  Happy Christmas.

Ecce Puer, By James Joyce (Trans: Behold the Young Boy)

Of the dark past
A child is born.
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

2 thoughts on “A Child Is Born

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