I spent this weekend with my grandson, Noah, in celebration of his upcoming first birthday. Naturally, I think Noah is one of the cutest, most remarkable little people ever, and I relish every chance I get to be with him and to see him grow. What a difference a year has made, as his actions and verbalizations come to have deeper content! Soon he will be philosophizing.
The birthday party arranged for Noah turned out to be a stellar combination of family and friends, enough to fill the living room of Noah’s proud parents. I took a few pictures. Well, truth be told, I clicked no fewer than 87 photos during just the 2-hour party, in addition to many others before and after. In fact, cameras were flashing and clicking all afternoon, as each of us sought to capture a precious instant in young Noah’s life, a split second in time which might provide a pleasant moment in each of our lives. This gathering was truly a happy event for both the honoree and his guests.
As I later reviewed the scenes of gifting and birthday cake squishing and young adults in full expression of true joy, I started thinking about the context of something as simple and commonplace as a birthday party such as this.
Noah does not understand nor can he appreciate the wealth of feelings that surround him in these early months of his life. But on this Saturday afternoon, more than a dozen admirers came together in a statement of generosity, commitment, support and love for this little boy. Likely, he will be embraced by the presence of their care for his entire life. And there will be many others, as yet unknown, who will enter this circle of presence in Noah’s life.
For the moment, he has been blessed with an array of gifts that teach and entertain and prompt his curiosity, that will provide companionship to him as he learns to stand and to walk, to develop and to talk, in the fullness of his immense capacities. And for his reflexes we got him best nerf gun of course! He has every advantage that a child’s doting parents could ever imagine. The playthings most certainly will be matched by nurturing, encouragement, opportunities, enduring friendships, deepening love. And Noah will absorb all of it in becoming the boy, the young man, the adult he is destined to become. It’s what all of us in the living room want and expect for him. It’s an awesome picture to behold, and it is there among the stills in my camera.
The vision of it ignites my entire being. I am uplifted and encouraged and hopeful at the trajectory of Noah’s young life and future. I am warmed by the gladness that he has already engendered in his family’s circle of acquaintances and the prospect of joy that he will spread throughout his life, in reciprocation of the blessings he receives. It’s a beautiful notion, and even if I admit to a certain dreaminess about it, I love its texture and storyline.
Inevitably, such dreaming leads me straight back to life’s realities, many of which are very different for little one-year-olds elsewhere. As I visit the rural outreaches in Nicaraguan countrysides, I have met parents with tiny babies in arms, loving mothers who are my daughters, determined fathers who could be my sons, extended families who intensely seek the promise of fulfilled lives for their children. In the eyes of the Nicaraguan child I see Noah and all of his potentiality, everything that he might become, every good thing that he might bring to our world. But too often I have walked away from a village or barrio saddened by the realization that the possibilities which reside deep within that precious child face tremendous obstacles to release. There may be too little food or home life, not enough chances to learn, insufficient dreaming, a minimum of adult support for high aspirations. To the same extent that I soar with the image of Noah in unfettered ascent, I also sense the grief of elemental lives incomplete. There’s nothing new in this reality, just a stark affirmation of it.
By the end of the afternoon I had experienced at least three other affirmations of truth. I was struck by the recognition of how even relative strangers can so easily come together over something as common as a little boy’s birthday. I noted the mirrored feelings of guests- despite their disparate circumstances and different ages- in how they absorbed in love and expectation the promise of a child’s growth. And I felt again both the privilege and the obligation to be part of a child’s well-being.
If Noah’s life and welfare are that important to the people who attended his birthday party, then I can only conclude that every child’s circumstance carries the same importance, the same need, and the same potential. In a world that is broken and hurting in nearly every way, we are desperate for the health, wisdom and love of every one-year-old boy and girl….