The Wonder of Babies
Babies manage to elicit our joy just by existing. What if everyone, young and old, all ages in-between, did that for us?
When a baby comes into our midst, we can be pretty smitten. We coo over them and smile sweetly, and some of us go to great lengths in our fawning admiration. "Look at your little nose,” we say, "your little cheeks!" and if we are allowed, we may reach out to touch that fine baby hair, or gently stroke an arm. We examine with absolute wonder their fingers and toes and look deeply into their eyes. If they perchance grace us with a magical babysmile, we light up, returning the compliment with exaggeration, wildly waving and shaking our heads. Sure, we'll restrain ourselves in polite company, but at least for me, the impulse is there.
Similarly, we marvel at the ability of the toddler to walk, to talk, to even string whole sentences together! We watch, rapt, as they go from waddling to running, learn to do things like fasten a button or use a spoon, and profusely encourage their efforts. And when an eager sharer speaks of their latest accomplishment or announces some news we react with great interest, and ask to know more.
But somewhere between toddlerdom and adulthood, the generic fascination ends (perhaps with the teenage years?) Oh, there are still people we tolerate, or even a few we adore, but only because we know them. But even them we often take for granted—it's not often they elicit the joyful response a baby can by just simply existing.
Why is this? Why is it that we aren't just as enthralled by the adults we encounter? Someone who has survived to, oh, let’s say 53, may not merit coos, oos, and ahs, but why not? What if we looked at strangers in the street the way we do babies, and we approached them excitedly, or at least gave them happy sidelong gazes, commented on their lovely expressions, their cute ears (even with, or perhaps because of, the hair growing from them), their exceedingly impressive coordination.
Sure, I know, there are probably lots of reasons why. For one thing, adults are just, well. common--they're everywhere, whereas, babies, unless you work in a nursery or preschool, are relatively rare. And I'm sure there's a scientific evolutionary explanation for why we react to babies as we do—something about the importance of caring for the young and meeting their needs because they are utterly dependent on having us notice them. I get that we aren't trying to slight adults by not getting all cow-eyed every time we see one, and it's perfectly reasonable not to. But can imagine for a moment a world where we did?
What if, when we looked at that 45 year-old walking in front of us and thought, "Wow, there goes a human being!", or, "Wow, how amazing that this person is walking, despite a limp," or later, "see that old woman in her wheelchair, what stories and memories she must have—I bet she has seen a lot of things in her lifetime, I bet she has a lot of wisdom" and, "look at this great young man, I wonder if I can make him smile." In our world, we are so often met with neutrality by others, or worse, antagonism. You probably know at least one person who just seems hell-bent to be angry at the site of another human being. Could we train ourselves to see others in the way we might see babies-- with wonder and appreciation and just joy?
Go ahead, try it, just for a few hours-- and if you are having trouble feeling particularly awed by the person behind you in the check-out line (who smells bad, has a different hair style and clothing you never would, looks different and probably lives a different life-style, well, imagine them as a baby. Imagine someone through the eyes of a loving grandmother.
I've been amazed at the difference it makes when I pause to remember that everyone I meet is no doubt wondrous in some way—I may not know exactly what way that is, and I may never know, but recognizing that fact makes it more likely that I will find something to appreciate in the "other."
Whether or not I end up interacting with the people I’ve been contemplating from a “wondrous” point of view, I’ve found this practice brings me a great sense of peace.
Unlike babies, those of us who have lived a little longer have created experiences, raised families, given gifts, labored for the things they cared about or needed to do, been a friend or sibling, experienced victory and failure, overcome or succumbed to hardships, known deep loss. Each person has a unique view occasioned by their circumstances and individuality. Surely this merits some wonder. Surely, if we could be reminded of this when we meet someone, we might not only treat one another more gently, but be made joyful by the blessing of this unique being in our midst.