A friend of mine has an adult son whose life might be described as a perpetual disappointment. An unbiased observer might note that he is singularly responsible for each of his mother's (my friend's) gray hairs. He can't seem to miss an opportunity to make a mistake.
The other day she mentioned him to me. But instead of describing all of the heartbreak he has caused her, all of the unnecessary worry and stress, she said simply this:
He's still the apple of my eye.
Her love for him was palpable, written on her face, bursting through in her words. She is not blind to his reckless disregard for his own health and happiness, or the impact that has on the lives of his friends and family. But that simply isn't a factor. She still adores him passionately, even as she sees all of his flaws and failings.
Listening to my friend talk about her son reminded me of a conversation I once had with my grandmother. I was about 19 or 20 years old, and a mess. I'd flunked out of college, and had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. Honestly, I wasn't terribly attached to the idea of staying alive. Existence was a burden at best.
In the midst of my psychological torment, in the midst of my unmitigated failure, my grandmother looked at me, sized me up, smiled, and said:
Chris, I'm proud of you.
PROUD OF ME?!? I almost screamed, bewildered by her statement. How could you be proud of me? What have I ever done that would make you proud of me?
She sighed, and patiently said, You don't understand. It's nothing that you did, it's who you are. You're my grandson, and I'm proud of you.
She was right. I didn't understand. I had no idea what love was. I'd never fully experienced it. But I'm starting to learn. Usually when I write about Adam or parenting, it is in the form of some funny story, some clever anecdote. I don't often take the time to reflect on how parenting has changed me. But it has.
When Adam was born, after the nurses cleaned him off, they handed him to me. I held his tiny body, his fragile life, in my clumsy hands. Hands better for dropping than holding, better for smashing than mending. As I held him, he looked so cold. So I wrapped him up in my hands, using my palms as a kind of blanket for him, wrapped as they were around his shivering chest. He nestled up in my arms, stopped crying for a moment, and looked at me.
I know that a newborn baby can't see but a few inches in front of his or her face, so he probably wasn't really looking at me. But it seemed to me that his eyes caught mine, and I know that my eyes caught his. I stared deeply into those just-birthed blue eyes, and I could almost see something behind them, some miraculous consciousness.
He's ALIVE! I wanted to scream. ALIVE! Do you know what a miracle that is?!?
In that moment I was truly proud of him, and he hadn't done anything yet. But the pride that a parent has for a child has nothing to do with the merits of that child, as far as I can tell. It instead has everything to do with being ushered into an appreciation of the miracle of life.
Whenever I look at Adam, I understand that he is a miracle, my miracle. And I'm proud of him for no reason other than that he continues to exist. So, with respect to him, I think, I am learning to love.
Each of us is someone's child. Each of us should be loved like that. As I meditate on the mysterious miracle of the life of my child, may that usher me into an appreciation of the miracle of life itself, as expressed in each person I encounter. They may never be as special to me as my Adam, but I must always treat them as though they are worthy - simply because they exist - of that kind of love and respect, even if I can't yet feel it for them.
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