I am sitting on the back porch of my son’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am seeing my four-week-old grandson Edin for the first time. My daughter-in-law tells me that Edin means “delight” in Hebrew. I’ve taken Edin downstairs to let his parents sleep. As we sit together, I watch.
I inspect the faint bruising over his right eyebrow, left from scraping against pubic bones. I watch him yawn, lower jaw stretching first to the right side, then to the left, exposing the ridge of his gums and the tiny hollow of his upper palate. I read his brows like an Oklahoma farmer scans the sky for rain. His snuffling and total-body shudder followed by a huge exhale sometimes signal contentment and sometimes mean wakefulness. His is an existence outside of intention and thought like the clouds that come in and out of my view.
There’s a primordial feel to Charlottesville. Crepe myrtles here grow tall, with red and magenta sprays sticking up like firebrands. The insects’ drone is constant. Vines overgrow everything. They cover the wide girths of century-old tree trunks. They snake over and through fences and around trails and walks.
Edin is full of personality. He is a squirmer, like his dad. Karate jabs, head-butting and body surfing please him. He enjoys the motion of going up and down stairs. He prefers sleeping on his stomach. He loves the sound of singing. When he startles himself awake, his arms and legs stiffen and fling out, like an inverted scaredy cat. But he is quick to be comforted, willing to relinquish his anguish to a breast, to arms enfolding him, to a rendition of “Don’t Fence Me In.”
Two days ago, on a fall-feeling day with a cool breeze on my bare legs, suffused sunlight on leaf-dappled grass and the clear song of a wren, I sat watching Edin’s sleeping face in my lap. Even though I knew we were perched on the precipice of change, as we always are-–the seasons, the shadows across the lawn, Edin and myself—it felt like time was standing still. The sun would always shine and Edin and I would stay just as we are.
That illusion is broken by changes in Edin in the few days I’ve been with him. His stick-figure arms and legs are muscling out. Just last week, he fit easily in the crook of one arm. He’s become lanky, requiring both my arms. Already he is less easily startled and can often settle himself back to sleep. Most of all, his cobalt eyes are gaining focus. That stare into outer space is disappearing.
Experts say that babies cannot focus or smile until they are six weeks old. We adults hope to speed things up. We peer into their faces. We grin, nod, coo and try to coax a smile. Yet, once the baby responds, it will change our interactions with him forever. There will be expectations on both sides. These lingering gazes I love so much will disappear. It’s a loss of innocence.
When I first learned the story of Adam and Eve, I was very angry. By eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Eve ruined my chance to live in the Garden of Eden. But, on further reflection, I believe a part of Paradise is still with us. We can glimpse that same innocence in the first weeks of every life. That is why thousands of years after Genesis, a young couple thought to name their child “Edin.”
I now recognize the story of Adam and Eve for the brilliant metaphor it is. What makes us human is that very knowledge of good and evil, that knowledge of our own nakedness, that awareness of our “self.” In two more weeks, Edin’s eyes will lock on to our faces as surely as Eve had to bite into that apple.
Tell me: Who or what or where is your Eden?