Other people’s children can be a joy. Sometimes I see a child doing something I used to enjoy doing. Other times (in the classroom), their curiosity and excitement restores my mood, which is often so negatively affected by the jaded adults around me. This Christmas I have noticed yet another joy I find in my friends’ children. That is parents view Christmas differently than the childless. They also have financial worries, and stress related to socializing with relatives. I’m sure some feel anxious hoping their kids will like their presents. But they experience the magic of Christmas because they are always watching and thinking of their children, to whom Christmas has not yet lost an iota of magic, to whom Christmas music is not yet annoying (I love it, but not everyone does!), who are perhaps only beginning to guess the truth about Santa Claus.
Recently at church one of the deacons had everyone partner with a stranger for an exercise. I might add how strange this sort of thing is during Roman Catholic Mass, but I suspect this deacon must have grown up a Baptist or something–I digress. One person was instructed to smile with real affection and love, looking into the other person’s eyes. The second person was to maintain eye contact, but to keep from smiling. It is possible, but not common for a person to be able to do this. “Monkey see, monkey do,” perhaps? The deacon explained that he had done this exercise during a workshop many years ago under the direction of a psychologist who did indeed have some professional term for this phenomenon.
I don’t know about psychology, but I do know that it is hard to look at someone who is experiencing wonder, and not to feel it or be reminded of having felt it before oneself. It is hard to look at someone in tears, suffering grief, without feeling some pain as well. Sometimes it is rather superficial (crying during The Notebook perhaps). Other times it is a great thing that touches the soul of the person who is looking (deciding to give to the homeless, having seen their suffering). There is potential for something even sacred, when both persons involved are touched (this happens, for example, when one has crossed from trying to offer comfort to actually comforting another).
So it appears with parents and children in particular. When I was a child, my mother would say, “When you cry, I cry.” Only many years later did I realize the profundity of her statement. It was not, “You cry, therefore I cry,” implying a cold cause and effect. It was an expression of connection. I experience what you experience because we are connected.
I suppose to be a true and enlightened Christian, that is, when we’re in the new world, in heaven, whathaveyou, we will feel this connection easily and with all of Creation, maybe with God himself. As it is or as we are, it is easier to feel as one with those close to us, and it is easy to wall off others and to refuse to feel with them.
But I am getting far away from what I had wished to write. What I have noted this Christmas is how much people love their children. This is not surprising, and no one questions it, but it is like this: you may have heard a friend talking about how delicious cheesecake is, and believed it, but it is different to watch your friend eating cheesecake–to see the goofy grin that a person gets when they eat something so luscious. You went from knowing they enjoy cheesecake to seeing they enjoy cheesecake. So in some sense, you feel their enjoyment too.
Finally, other people’s children are a joy when they are merciful. Kids are infamous for being too honest. “Mom, why is that lady so fat?” and things like that. For me, it is always a
relief joy when I lose control of my skateboard or something in front of a kid–and, of course, it always seems to happen in front of a kid–and they don’t ridicule my old, not-as-coordinated-as-I-should-be arse. In my mind I say, “Thanks, kid! I know you saw that!”