This is the “Summer of the Grandchild” for our family. All three of our married children and their spouses have brought new life into the world between May and July.
While the babies bodies were “under construction,” I was steadfast in my belief that their souls were being tenderly cared for by loved ones who lived and died before them.
You see, I believe in the world of the “already-weres and the not-yets.”
Dara Horn’s first-rate novel “The World to Come” imagines such a realm, where the unborn and those who have passed away actually know each other, where “the already-weres and the not-yets of our world, the mortals and the natals, are bound together somewhere just past where we can see, in a knot of eternal life.”
I believe this not because it provides comfort, although it does. I believe this because it seems entirely rational to me that our human relationships would transcend material existence. Can I prove it? No. I accept that vast amounts of knowledge and understanding lie outside of our limited human capabilities.
But I felt especially certain that my mother, my kids’ beloved Bubbie, was mighty busy with our “not-yets.” A true “baby whisperer,” she passed away too young while our kids were teens; gone from this world, but never forgotten.
The “Summer of the Grandchild” kicked off for us early last November. When I arrived at our son and daughter-in-laws’ Chicago home, our toddler grandson greeted me, sporting a t-shirt that read, “I’m getting a promotion to BIG BROTHER. Effective June 2015.” Excitement and happy tears followed. “Let’s FaceTime Dad with the good news”, my son said. More excitement as the t-shirted toddler announced his big brother status to his Popsi.
Next, I headed over to see our daughter, son-in-law, and toddler granddaughter. “Guess what I just found out?” our daughter exclaimed. “I’m pregnant—due in July! Let’s Facetime Dad and tell him!” And so, one hour later, my flabbergasted husband was back on FaceTime to hear that another grandchild was on the way. Since neither couple was ready to go public with their pregnancies, we were sworn to secrecy. No one could know yet, not even their siblings.
The next few weeks we watched every word we said, lest we slip up and spill the beans. Just after Thanksgiving our son and daughter-in-law in Minneapolis invited us and her parents for Shabbat dinner, our first Shabbat dinner invitation since they bought a house a few months earlier. “Do you think….?” I asked my husband. And sure enough, after our son finished reciting the Kiddush, he raised his glass and toasted, “To the new house… and the new baby!” Only when we were safely in the car and a few blocks away did we shriek, “THREE! THREE! THREE!” all the way home.
We continued to maintain secrecy equal to a CIA operation. It was a great relief when, one by one, each couple announced their happy news and moved into the middle stages of pregnancy.
In “The World to Come,” babies spend nine months learning about their family history and essential wisdom they will need in order to live a good life. Says an “already-was” to a “not-yet”: “The real world to come is down below—the world, the future, as you create it. The world, to come.”
The first of our summer grandchildren was born a bit early, in late May. As we sped toward Chicago, knowing that the moment of birth was imminent, a split screen formed in my mind. On one side, the delivery room and the baby, moments from birth. On the other side, Bubbie and others giving that baby a last kiss, a whispered blessing, a push out of paradise, a tumble down to earth.
A day that began like any other ended with a new grandson in our arms.
Last July, we found ourselves dealing with something else entirely: My 92-year-old father-in-law was dying. Papa was the only grandparent to see our children reach adulthood and they simply adored each other. We spent the last weeks of his life in watchful waiting. Would it be today? Tomorrow? Another week or two? On July 14, 2014, Papa made a peaceful exit from this world.
This July was spent in watchful waiting, not for who was leaving but for who was coming. On July 15, our granddaughter in Minneapolis was born, and one day later, on July 16, our granddaughter in Chicago was born. Two babies, two cities, a day apart—and we were blessed to be on the scene for both. Fortunate timing? Of course.
But you will never convince me that only luck was involved.
Holding each of our summer grandchildren shortly after birth, I could only feel wonder that they were here, the blessings and caresses of our beloved “already-weres” shimmering in the air around them.