I got to hold 7 month old baby, Fatima in the Mercado yesterday. A true pleasure. Babies are so much fun. Fat, squirmy little things lightly scented with talcum powder, ablaze in wide eyed wonder and innocence.

When babies reach the stage of development where they can sit up by themselves, that’s the place where they start to get interesting. And that’s when their tiny little personalities begin to get interesting. It is at that point where we can begin to return their look with some of that same sense of wonder that they possess.

While I sit here thinking, I am reminded of Borge’s literary tradition of magical realism and tangentially how tiny children inhabit a world that is all their own. But sometimes, given the right circumstances, that world is visible in reverse. And holding Fatima got me recollecting my personal favorite baby-holding story of all time.

In ’92 or ’93 my mother, youngest sister and I were riding in the back of a country bus somewhere in southern Poland. The back story is that my father had passed away a few years earlier and I wanted to get my mother out to see some of the more untraveled parts of the world and my sister decided to  tag along.

So we were on this bus. It was crowded with mostly women and kids. We were in the back when the bus made a stop. The rear door opened and a young woman with a baby girl tucked up over her arm began trying to board but she was impeded by the 2 bags of produce that she had bought nearby in some local market. It was one big step up into the bus and we were all watching her as she tried to negotiate the step with her burdens.

Finally, she came to a decision that she needed some help. She looked at all of the people in the back of the bus, set her bags down and handed her baby up to me. I wasn’t even closest to the door and yet out of all the people that she could have picked, amongst which were fellow countrywomen and mothers, she chose me.

In that split second when I was handed the baby I felt as if a window had opened into the supernatural. It was like all at once – the hand of God, heavenly choirs, the descension of angels and all of that.

Oh yes. Laugh if you will but I was so immediately confounded by the mystery of why she would give her baby to me; to where at that moment of transference, my awareness shifted. And so from my changed perspective, the story could not merely be construed as a foreigner giving a favor. No, instead the favor became a gift. And supernaturally, the gift changed directions.

That moment made a tremendous impact on me. Why? I really don’t know. But for whatever reason it touched my heart and filled me with an overwhelming joy that was somehow tempered with a profound sense of humility. I consider it to be one of those tiny miracles that we sometimes experience and more times than not sadly forget.

PS – It was on that same bus that I saw one of the most beautiful women that I have ever seen in my life. She was about 17, traveling with her old grandmother. She was a poor country girl with dirt under her fingernails but she possessed that certain old world beauty that seemingly stepped out of one of the illustrated pages of Grimm’s fairy tales. She had naturally red lips, clear blue eyes, rosy apple cheeks, flawless creamy milk white skin and flaxen hair.

I expect that years in the future I will still be remembering this simple Polish country girl of almost unimaginable beauty.

And of course, how could I ever forget the baby?

 

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