catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 7 :: 2011.04.08 — 2011.04.21


Letter to my son

You, my son, arrived with two pieces of paper clutched in each tiny fist. 

On that 23rd of January when the stark winter moon crawled steadily into the night sky, you arrived, red, screeching and altogether lovely.  We marveled at you, your father and I, awed at the dark hair that slept in the nape of your neck, at your long fingernails on each wrinkled finger, at your dark, bleary eyes squinting to meet us.  We cried when we heard your first lusty yell, a holy sound that announced you were here.  On the night of your birth we sat there mesmerized, drunk almost, at the sight, the sound, the feel of you.  We delighted in all those things that make new parents gasp and think they must be the only ones in this whole big world who have been given a gift so special.  The note in your one hand read, “The world was created for me.” 

The other note, my son, in your left hand read, “I am a speck of dust.”  Your birth, joining all the rest of us who have been born, while amazing and miraculous, is not a unique event.  We’d be foolish to insist, to live our lives as though your birth were a one-and-only occasion.  You are like everyone else, unique and incredible, but it is my prayer for you that one night you will stand under the night sky, beneath the duvet of solar systems, stars and galaxies and you will be in complete awe.  And feel very, very  humbled and very, very small, like a speck. 

The humility that surrounds the realization that you are a small part of something much larger comes with another meaning.  Kathleen Norris, in her book Acedia & Me, suggests that “while today the word humility may connote a placid servility in the face of mistreatment, its Latin origins suggest strength and fertility.  The word comes from humus, as in ‘earth.’  A humble person is one who accepts the paradox of being both ‘great and small.’”  That tension is essential for each of us: that we are both great and small all at once.  Like earth, humility provides a fertile ground for cultivating a deep sense of both the profound and the small. 

Any woman who has given birth, been “great with child” knows this tension.  With a force entirely beyond myself, with four Herculean-sized pushes, you emerged.  The process of birthing cradles that paradox of great and small so acutely: never before have I felt so “great,” empowered, powerful, with every muscle in my body working together to bring you forth.  And yet, never before have I felt so incredibly vulnerable, so humbled and entirely helpless.  Carrying a child, while empowering, is also surrender, submitting to this process that is so much bigger, so much greater than I.  It is a surrender to the process and also to the outcome because there is no guarantee that you will be well and healthy.

Perhaps then, my son, your role is to teach me that this whole thing — this whole crazy thing we call life — is entirely beyond us and we are only blessed to participate. Each birth, while amazing and miraculous on its own, is part of something much larger and greater, in which, according to Father Richard Rohr in The Naked Now, “everything belongs. It does not begin or end with you.”

And my son, I am by no means suggesting that birth or having children is the only path that leads to acknowledging one’s greatness and speck-ness.  Anyone who has suffered knows of her smallness, rising them to find a God-given inner strength that leads to greatness.  Others recognize their insignificance when in awe, like the psalmist who writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars…what are humans that you are mindful of them?”  (Psalm 8: 3-4).

Soren Kierkegaard, at age 22, felt this tension when he stood still one night overlooking the sea:

I stood there one quiet evening as the sea struck up its song with deep and calm solemnity…and the sea set bounds to the heavens, and the heavens to the sea….  As I stood there, without that feeling of dejection and despondency which makes me look upon myself…then all at once I felt how great and small I was; then did those two mighty forces, pride and humility, happily unite in friendship.  Lucky is the man (woman) to whom that is possible at every moment of his life; in whose breast those two factors have not only come to an agreement but have joined hands and been wedded — a marriage which is neither a marriage de convenance nor a mesalliance but a tranquil marriage of love held in the most secret chamber of man’s heart…." (Journal, 1835)

It is that wedding, my son, that tranquil marriage that you are teaching me and that I pray for you to know also and hold deep in your breast.  I pray that you, my children, and all children, will know and rest in the contentment of being both everything and nothing.  And so, my son, may you take those pieces of paper you clutched as a newborn and stuff them deep into your life pockets.

I will continue to delight in you. 

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