Two beings so different yet so complementary
The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Having two small children in the house is a lot like being the director of FEMA: you chopper in within moments of the damage being done and get to be accountable for how the cleanup goes.
Lately it’s escalating. We now have a 16-month-old runner/ walker who’s fond of the word “off.” Pronounced “oh-aff,” the word is a universal command: please take my coat off; please let me take those carefully folded dish towels “off” of the drawer; I need to go “off” into that chair. Any request involving being somewhere she’s not currently standing, or placing something anywhere it’s not currently located, is covered by this one word. How simple.
So in the middle of dinner preparations, when we hear her shuffle near and utter that one word, we’re put on guard. What exactly should we be expecting, and how can we clean up the unexpected when it happens?
Anyone who’s been around this kid enough would understand that chasing after her in order to pick up is rather a small price to pay for getting to hang out with her. And the same certainly goes for her 4-year-old brother, although their ways of approaching life seem so different that sometimes it’s hard to believe they descended from the same gene pool.
When he was 6 months old, he was carried practically everywhere in a sling, where he much preferred to face out toward the world. He sat in the contraption, strapped to his mommy, giving off the air of a G-man looking to spot a shooter in a crowd. Pleasant elders would approach and give him the thumbs-up, cooing and talking to him, and he would stare back blankly as if to say, “You’re insane; get out of my space.”
On the other hand, his sister regards people and faces as the first among many wonders. Before she walked, she too preferred to face out on the world, but only so that she could interact with it. Nowadays when being held close, she has a way of sidling up even closer; and if your eyes are somewhere else, she will slide into your line of sight, grinning her big, world-eating grin.
The differences continue, but you get the idea. Two entirely different people have emerged out of the union of two other different people, and so it goes and so it goes. We aren’t supposed to be fazed by these facts, but when we stop to admire them, they can seem staggering. How did he or she get to be so tall or expressive or funny for this age?
Such diversity is the stuff that powers the world. Biochemists and theoretical physicists alike will argue that you and I are basically made up of the same stuff, but that doesn’t keep us from thinking or acting in radically different ways. Four-year-olds and 1-year-olds simply point up the difference with such clarity that we can actually see it in play.
Furthermore, such diversity is ordained, or, if you like, affirmed, as being in the image of God. Scripture commends this affirmation, too, as in Psalm 104, a gorgeous recitation of the divine manifold handiwork evident in nature. (“Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable, living things both small and great.”)
It may seem like a leap of logic to imagine that the difference in the way two children engage the world mirrors the diversity of all things in the deepest cosmological sense. Yet I have been to this strange land of late and straddle the two realities. The father in me says that the gulf in his children’s demeanor is no accident; and then the priest in me takes over, drawing all of this as far back to its source as it will go, where the pattern is established by that which is the source of all wisdom.
So when I see them acting so different from one another, this is no trouble at all, but merely a reminder of how things have always been. And anyway, they need each other as brother and sister so that when he is sullen she can make him laugh; or, when she falls with her great thud, he can be first on the scene, ready to comfort.
Besides which, someday their mother and I will be old and cranky, and they will need to lean on one another, comfort one another, counsel and console one another.
Around the time we discovered that we were to become second-time parents, I ran across the idea that a sibling was the greatest gift that parents could give their first child. The idea was warming. Now I’m really beginning to understand the depth of that logic.
The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.
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