A couple months ago, I fell in love with a younger woman, a much younger woman.
A girl, really. Well, actually, a baby.
She was born a little after four o’clock on a Monday afternoon, and, although I’d known she was on her way, I was astonished at how beautiful and strong and innocent and vulnerable this little baby girl — my granddaughter — was. And is.
I was also astonished at her name, the name that our son David and our daughter-in-law Tara gave to her: Emmaline Patrick Reardon. I was honored and touched and humbled that Emma’s parents would link me in this way to this unbelievably loveable, squirming, yawning, stretching tiny human being. And I like that, in this small way, she will carry a piece of me into her future.
I know it’s a future that is likely to extend far beyond my remaining time on the face of the earth, and I’m OK with that. Emma, at this point in her new life, is filled with potential. She seems fairly calm and curious, but it will take months and years for her personality to begin to emerge and take shape.
Handing this world over
Nonetheless, I’m handing this world over to her now. It’s her inheritance and hers to do with what she wants.
As daunting as that may sound, it’s what every baby faces upon entering this human life, a life that can be a vale of tears or a land of milk and honey but is usually a mix of the two.
From the vantage of my nearly seventy years, I envy Emma all of the magnificence and beauty that await her, like falling in love the first time.
Or seeing and really noticing the interplay of shades of green as the branches of the tree outside her window dance in sun and shadow and a gentle breeze.
Or winning a race. Or discovering the deep harmony of heartfelt friendship. Or getting lost in a great novel (maybe, even, Jane Austen’s “Emma”).
Or finding the love of her life (as I did, back in 1981, when I met Cathy, the woman who is now her grandmother).
The slow-of-foot gene
I also know, alas, that Emma’s life won’t all be sweetness and light.
Her immaculately perfect skin will be marred. I remember how her father, at the age of two, rolled down a small hill in the neighborhood. When he stood up, I could see that something in the grass had cut his leg just above the knee. He paid no attention to the small amount of blood but ran to the top to roll down again. I went to him to clean the wound, feeling a little gloomy that his unblemished skin was now blemished.
Emma’s heart will be broken. She’ll find out stuff about herself that she won’t like. (Her father and her Aunt Sarah still complain to me that they inherited the Reardon gene for being slow afoot.)
And, like any human, she’ll make mistakes — flunk a test, miss an important shot on the basketball court, drive the car a little too fast, trip over her own two feet.
A great mix of a whole lot of everything
Oh, poor Emma. I hate to think of you being sad or frustrated or irritated. But that’s what you inherited when you made your appearance on this earth.
That, and so many joys and delights.
Life, you’ll find, is a great adventure with a great mix of a whole lot of everything. You’ll know pain and elation, sometimes at the same time. You’ll be bored and you’ll be excited and you’ll be confused. (Actually, if you’re like me, you’ll be confused a lot of the time.)
You’ll mourn and you’ll find hope.
Endure and enjoy
Hope is very important. Hold tight onto your hope, Emmaline Patrick, especially in the toughest moments. It’ll help you endure until it’s time again to enjoy.
And, maybe 60 or 70 years from now, maybe sooner, you will find yourself looking into the eyes of a newborn girl child or boy child. And, when you do, I hope you feel as much sheer happiness and glee as I feel now when I look at you.
I’m sure, every time you see that new baby, Emma, you’ll fall in love all over again.
Patrick T. Reardon
This essay originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on 9.3.19.