There are a lot of joys about being a grandparent, but for starters, it lets us relive those first months and years of being a parent.
We’ve got a lot of mileage on our odometer now, but at one time, all of us grandparents held a precious new life for the first time in our arms when our own children were born. We wondered what he or she would become, what tales they’d tell, what adventures they’d have.
A grandchild lets us relive the same experience. It evokes the same dreams, yet now we know that whatever way forward, it is not without risk. This makes that grandchild in our arms even more precious, and our desire to protect even stronger, no matter how far away we are or how frequently we are able to visit.
This mix of feelings is the juxtaposition of the crib and the cross. Any parish Nativity scene is in the shadow of the crucifix. That shadow is the sword piercing Mary’s heart even as she stares in plaster rapture at her new child. All of us can share that confluence of joy and apprehension, knowing the promise and the pain that lie ahead. Like the Ukrainian babies born in bomb shelters or migrant babies born on perilous journeys to a new land, birth arrives with both promise and peril.
And yet knowing all those risks, we are still overcome by the birth of a child. As we gaze at this new human, this little creature with a whole lifetime before her, our thoughts may turn to our own life, to the roads taken and not taken, the “yeses” we gave, the “nos” we may regret.
Part of the aging process is that our long-term memory may feel as if it is getting stronger while our short-term memory may not feel as sharp. We can remember all the words to the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” when it comes on the radio, but we can’t remember the name of the actor whose movie we just saw.
Perhaps, as with the arrival of a grandchild, this is God’s way of having us reflect on our lives, on our choices, our loves, our failings. Likewise, when we are gazing at our granddaughter and thinking of what is to come, our thoughts turn to what has happened in our own lives.
What is constant is change, both subtle and abrupt. Marriages start. Jobs end. Loved ones are born and loved ones die. To everything there is a season, the psalm and the song say. Even that sweet baby we are holding in our arms becomes in a blink an energetic toddler racing around the living room with no time for embraces, and in another blink heads out the door.
This is the season of new birth. We celebrate the arrival of the Christ Child. We celebrate the arrival of a new year, a time of changes wished and fresh resolutions. In the darkest days of winter, we are filled with new hope, just as when we hold that new child.
And the lesson for all of us is Emmanuel: “God is with us.” Amid the births and deaths, the losses, the changes, the new beginnings and the last chapters, God is with us. Some of us greet change with excitement, some with trepidation. Our faith tells us we are not alone.
And holding that little child swaddled in our arms, having her wrap her tiny fingers around our own finger, we tell her she is not alone either. Whatever the future holds, she is loved and welcomed and precious in our sight.
Greg Erlandson served as Director and Editor-in-Chief of Catholic News Service.
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