It makes no sense trying to measure the joy which our grandchildren Jacob and Zoey give to my wife and I. They, and all like them, are the promise in all our futures.
If tomorrow any man designed and built a computer infinitely more powerful and complex than whatever super machine is currently in the works a triple Nobel Prize could not nearly measure the magnitude of the achievement.
Or if any man constructed a pump that could run without stopping, beating 80 times a minute, without repair, without a hitch, for 80 years and more he would be honoured as the greatest engineer, the greatest inventor, the world has seen.
Yet any time a child is born – in shining home or meanest slum – just such marvels are created. Indeed, infinitely more than that. For it is not only the brain and heart of a newborn child that are miraculous and well beyond the wit of man’s invention. Every intricate part that makes up the child is incomparably beautiful, crafted to a stunning perfection. And beyond the miracle of the parts is the much greater miracle of the whole that is greater than the parts – what some call mind and others personality and others soul or spirit. What is already in the mind of my grandson Jacob, age 6, which leads him to ask “Dada, where am I in me?” and “Mama, what happened to yesterday?”
Any birth involves a thousand miracles. Whatever any man or woman achieves in life pales into insignificance beside the creation of a child. Mothers know this best, it is their unshakable secret. But a man can feel it too when a child of his is born and suddenly, for a blinding moment, he claims an insight into one of the very few achievements that really matter in life.
Quite apart from anything else, one feels that small but triumphant satisfaction that here is proof that one has found a way to outlive mortality. Thomas Hardy put it exactly in his poem ‘Heredity’.
I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
The years – heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despite the human span
Of durance – that is I;
The eternal thing in man
That heeds no call to die.
The older one gets the more one thinks of children, the originality of children, their infinite promise, and the more one believes in the overwhelming importance in families, in schools, in nations of teaching children properly, of educating them in the true sense of the word, of realizing their potential, of never stunting them by cruel misdeed, of accustoming them to the habit of concern for others.
The thought of punishing children harshly or long or for no good reason is repulsive I think of John Berryman’s lovely poem to his child:
Cross am I sometimes with my little daughter
fill her eyes with tears. Forgive me, Lord.
Unite my various soul.
Sole watchman of the wise and single stars.
There is a simple poem – hardly a poem, more an articulation of the heart on paper – by the great cellist Pablo Casals which he once jotted down for the children he loved beyond even his great art.
When will we teach our children what they are?
One should say to each of them:
Do you know what you are? You are a marvel!
You are unique! In all the world there is no
other child exactly like you! In the millions
of years that have passed, there has never been
another child like you!
And look at your body, what a wonder it is!
Your legs, your arms, your curving fingers, the
way you move! You may become a Shakespeare,
a Michelangelo, a Beethoven, a Mother Teresa.
You have the capacity for anything.
Yes, you are a marvel, and when you grow up,
Can you harm another who is, like you, a marvel?
No, hurt no one, bring only the joy you can!
“No, hurt no one, bring only the joy you can!” It is the best refrain I know for bringing up any child. And we should for sure take every chance to press the children to our hearts and praise them and in this new year and years to come bring them whatever joy you can and seek out in them and encourage the very best they can be.