Saturday, December 08, 2007

Looking into Eternity

But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never
---Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality

My youngest, Patrick, turned five last week and I am noticing he is every day less of a baby. He can see beyond his own day to day concerns, and think about how and why things are.

One example -- our Tintin comics, which he loves me to read to him, are often missing their first and last pages on account of much thumbing through the years by several older siblings. The one he picked today started on page five, giving a new meaning to "in media res". He raised his eyebrows at where the story started (with the detectives arresting the hero) and asked, "Is that really where it starts?" When I showed him the page number he said, "Oh -- so the page before that was where they found him?"

Later on he asked me (when Tintin gets swamped by a wave and wakes up on board a fishing ship) "Is he still hungry?"

"What do you mean? Why would he be hungry?"

He flipped back a page (a page is a long time in the eventful life of our hero) to where, before the storm came up, Tintin was fishing for something to eat and could only hook a giant shark.

"Oh, I see. I guess he must still be hungry. Later on he probably got something to eat in one of the parts that the book doesn't show."

He seemed OK with that.

When I was cuddling him to sleep a bit later we got started talking about grandparents. He is fascinated now with relationships. Who is Mama's Dad and mom? Are those the ones you went to see in Alaska? Who are their mom and dad? Somehow the hidden truth about our lives came out. Grandma and Grandpa's mom and dad are dead. Old people die. In fact, everybody dies eventually.

This was when I really saw him as not-a-baby-anymore. His face flushed, his eyes got bright with unshed tears, and the corners of his mouth turned down. He twisted my hair in his fingers as he questioned vehemently. Why do people die? What happens to them after they die? What if they don't want to die? Why do they have to go away from their homes, especially if they LIKE their homes? He asked big questions, the ones that have haunted the race since before Homer's time. He asked them in such a way that it was clear that he had some idea of the significance of the "rage against the dying of the light." He was not satisfied with the stock, soothing, limited parental answers; he brushed them aside, and I felt a bit silly for offering them. It reminded me of the story Charlotte Mason told:

I know a three-year-old girl who was found alone in the living room by a visitor. It was spring, so the visitor thought he would entertain her by talking about 'the pretty baa-lambs.' But she looked at him solemnly with her big blue eyes and said, 'Isn't it dwefful howwid to see a pig killed!' We hope she didn't witness the killing of a pig, or even hear of it, but she made a very effective protest against twaddle,

Paddy, too, had bigger concerns than the answers I tried to frame to his level of maturity. Finally, he turned away abruptly and put his head under the covers and subsided into sleep.

In sleep now, his eyelashes are long and his hands are still soft and gently curled like a baby's. I wish I could have given him better answers. I wish I could have explained to him that living forever in temporal sequence would be a curse -- the Flying Dutchman. That's something that a slightly older person could understand. It is one of the themes in Pope Benedict's Spe Salvi:

But then the question arises: do we really want this—to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable.

But to a barely five year old, who still mostly lives in the "appropriate calm of blest eternity", who is just beginning to understand that this life is not eternity, this would make no sense at all; not yet.


Faith said...

Beautiful post!

Melanie B said...

What a beautiful reflection. Thank you so much for sharing it.

We just finished reading that section of Spe Salvi and then I pulled up your blog. When I got to the section of your story about death, I read it to my husband who said, "Wow, that sounds like Spe Salvi". Then I read a few lines further and saw you make the connection too.

I love seeing the connections other people are making. It's rather like being part of a book club.