Exactly a year ago today, our oldest son, Luke, and his wife, Tasha, presented to the world the inimitable Lucy Beatrice Shea. (In fairness, Luke couldn’t have done it without Tasha. And, in hasty self-defense, I add that Tasha is a really good sport who enjoys a good laugh about labor and won’t, I am pretty sure, kill me for saying that.)
Born on a Monday, Lucy is properly fair of face, according to the wisdom of the old rhyme. Her round little head, her red hair, her great wide eyes drinking in everything, her adorable button nose, and her great big nearly toothless smile all conspire to light up her pale porcelain complexion with a radiance that is especially visible to delighted grandpas.
Lucy is a little girl of magnificent accomplishments. Her Apgar scores were through the roof, indicating an Ivy League or American Idol future (that is, if she isn’t the first woman on Mars). Also, she does a killer Maggie Simpson impression. Some see a future for her in modeling, but I think she’s too deep and spiritual for such a shallow life.
At her baptism, she was cleansed of original sin, of course. But there wasn’t all that much of it to start with. She loves God as much as a one year old knows how and continues to grow with His help. Indeed, since then, it’s been onward and upward in the whole “growing in grace and stature and in the favor of God and man” department. She goes from glory to glory. For instance, she can wave. She also knows how to say, “Hi!” And she can drop things overboard and say, “Uh oh!” When you dutifully fetch the dropped thing, she drops it again and says, “Uh oh.” This is a game we can play for hours.
She can crawl faster than the long-suffering neighbor cat can run on a lazy summer day. She enjoys splashing in the lake, eating nummies (plucked delicately and lady-like from the high-chair tray betwixt thumb and forefinger), and panting like a doggie. Christmas obviously delighted her, as did Easter. She seems to have a deeply spiritual appreciation for lights and music, which betokens further development and deeper appreciation next time. I’m pretty sure I overheard her reciting the Greek Johannine texts concerning Jesus as the light of the world as she hummed one of Bach’s Masses after we put her down for a nap the other day. But that may have just been an old man’s ears playing tricks on him.
One thing’s for sure: Lucy is a literate creature. She loves the taste of books, all of which go in her mouth. Indeed, almost everything must be tasted, for Lucy is a little girl who is not content to experience the world merely through the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. All the senses are fully engaged, which is deeply incarnational of her and shows that her grasp of sacramental theology is profound. I personally think it’s a shame that society drives this out of us as we “mature.” I, for one, would appreciate business meetings where executives clasped hands in manful greeting and then sucked on each other’s knuckles to get the full measure of one another, as Lucy always does when you put your hand in hers. Alas, for lost childhood!
This incarnationalism goes a long way with Lucy. So Catholic is she that she understands in her bones what many foolish philosophers and theologians have forgotten: that the first place you learn about the love of God is through the Sacrament of Mommy and Daddy.
Mommy and Daddy, for their part, are fine sacraments, both symbolizing what they do and doing what they symbolize. Daddy, like all good daddies, takes his daddyness not from his father who is in Seattle, but from his Father in heaven, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named (cf. Eph 3:15). He expresses this by means of such things as snuggles, singing Lennon/McCartney’s “I Will,” belly braps, spoon feedings of delicious chicken and sweet potato goo, and walking the floor with cranky little girls at night when he can. He also creates awesome cardboard box forts and robots that beat hollow any sophisticated electronic toy.
Mommy, likewise, radiates love like a good sacrament whenever she sees Lucy. In addition to lighting up like a flare at the sight of her, there is lots of holding her, talking with her about her diverse interests (these range from the “horse says ‘neigh'” to the stand up/sit down game), and teaching her to sing and play. Lucy has her own peculiar aerobics that she does, a sort of infant Tai Chi that only she really understands.
And all that love shows as it radiates out of her being and makes a family that used to be two into a family that is somehow now more than three. She is, quite simply, a happy little girl. She radiates health, both physical and spiritual. Her performance art is cutting edge and shows that she is a creative wunderkind on the order of Orson Welles. This includes screeching with joy, more panting like a doggie, and singing in a mysterious tongue that was probably spoken before the Tower of Babel. She is also able to stand without holding on to things, when she isn’t noticing that she does it.
Now the amazing and puzzling thing for me, as a Millennial American, is that none of these skills and abilities are considered “marketable” in our culture, and therefore I have no way of explaining why it is that Lucy should be permitted to sponge off society as she does. Indeed, from a socioeconomic perspective, Lucy is an enormous drain on resources. She takes and takes and gives nothing of practical value in return (although Science may soon find a use for her one consistent product). And experts with whom I have consulted inform me that she will continue to behave this way for nearly 20 years. I suspected as much, since my own kids likewise seem to be taking a very long time to earn the right to live in our production-based culture. One of them is 13 and still has shown no sign of promise as a serious wage earner. All he does is go to school on our dime. And he is but the latest in a pattern: None of our children has so far given back anything like what has been invested in them.
I am told that that some people — right-to-lifers, Catholics, other such backward knuckle-draggers — hold a radically different view of Lucy and other such useless eaters. It turns out that the Church says that a human being like Lucy is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake,” and that he or she alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that Lucy was created, and this is the fundamental reason for her dignity.
That stuff about existing, not as the means to an end, but for her own sake, just because it is good that she exists and not because she might someday be a useful cog in an economic system or a powerful player who can shovel other human beings around like concrete . . . that’s a real different way of seeing things from our predominant cultural trends.
And yet it certainly explains a lot. It explains why we love babies sort of like God loves us: not because they do something to earn it, but because love is for persons and God (who is Love) is for us, the creatures in His image and likeness. It explains why we endure a lifetime of loving our babies whatever heartache or tragedy may come, and sometimes go down willingly to the bitter end, like Christ crucified, for the love of our children. Other animals just eat their young if they get too troublesome — surely an efficient use of resources that are a net drain on productivity. But I rather prefer the human way.
It explains why people seldom have babies with the thought, “If I can only raise this biological product of my efficient sexual union with a fit breeding partner to be a millionaire, then I will derive wonderful economic benefits from this social contract I am now entering into. I shall commence the conditioning process immediately.” It explains why the occasional socially maladjusted loon who does enter into parenting on this basis is not the Rationalist paragon of Evolution and the future of the race, but a social defective who doesn’t understand the first thing about love, humanity, or babies.
Can any of this “man in the image of God, existing for his own sake” stuff be proven? Nope. St. Thomas says that no point of revelation can be proven, but every objection to revelation can be refuted by reason. The evidence for the Catholic view of the human person — of Lucy Beatrice Shea — is in the fruit of what happens when you live it (and normal healthy people always live it when it comes to adorable babies). Take a Catholic view of Lucy, and you remain sane and happy — and you have a happy little girl. You love her, not because you stand to gain from it materially, but because loving babies is in accord with the nature of things. Take the contemporary, productivity-oriented, utilitarian view of her as a means to some other end, and you quickly start saying insane things that get a million-and-a-half Lucys killed every year because somebody deems them to be unworthy of life. You get stage mothers who use their children as means to money, fame, or power. You get children who are exploited. You get something that is inhuman.
Me: I like that Lucy is alive, that she is. I like that she exists for her own sake, because God made her in His image and likeness and that she deserves to be loved, not used. That’s why we are celebrating her birth today. She did nothing — nothing whatsoever — to earn or deserve her being. Her life, like yours and mine, is pure gift. Happy birthday, sweet girl! We love you!