My grandson Cole loves all things mechanical. Put a toy hammer in his hand and he’ll go on a fixing spree. Wobbly bed posts will be pounded tight, rough edges in the home tapped smooth. Whining drills and purring engines command his rapt attention.
Come to think of it, Cole’s love isn’t restricted to tools and motors. He has an expansive spirit for a tenderfoot of three years. His interest reaches beyond fascination. When I recently took my thumb off for him–a corny trick I picked up years ago from Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live–he said, “I don’t like that.”
“Oh, buddy,” I said, “I didn’t really take off my thumb. That was make-believe.”
But he assumed that if my thumb came apart at the knuckle, I must have hurt myself. Honest to God, his frown and furrowed brow have medicine the human race needs to feel compassionate again. I promised not to do that trick anymore.
When Cole comes with my wife and me to St. John’s in Oniontown on Sunday morning, he often ends up weaving between the pine trees along the parking lot. Grandma Kathy follows behind, the two of them gathering a treasure of cones. The air itself–hot, cold, doesn’t matter–brings the kid joy as he runs his silly run through it. His trunk and limbs swing independent of each other so he looks like a marionette with a drunkard at the strings.
Cole’s run put to words would mean, “Look! This is gladness!”
But he wouldn’t say anything like that. He is too giddy to make an observation. Anyway, his mouth has no way of keeping pace with his speedy mind. He deals with this inconvenience by simply repeating whatever word happens to be on his tongue until the logjam in his brain clears. Many of his sentences begin with “I, I, I, I, I.”
Fortunately, the boy makes listening worthwhile. My daughter Elena told me about watching with Cole from the family mini-van as a backhoe scooped away at a patch of ground next to a pine tree. The hole got deeper and deeper, but neither mother nor son knew why.
Then the backhoe did something surprising. The driver put the back of the bucket against the tree and pushed it over. Turns out the hole was dug to weaken the roots and fell the tree.
Elena didn’t need to describe Cole’s expression. I could imagine it. His face—those pink cheeks and fine eyelashes—bright with awe, darkened in an instant. And I’m sure what happened required a few seconds to take on words.
“The tree can’t be down like that,” he finally said. “It has to be up. So so so the squirrels can eat the pine.”
I can’t remember what Elena’s response was, but I’ll bet everything she kissed him and said he was right. My buddy didn’t get a great soul by accident. His parents are faithful stewards of their son’s divinations.
Sure, there was probably an excellent reason for the pine tree to fall, but that’s not the point.
And now you’ll assume I’m speaking poetically, but my purpose couldn’t be more prosaic. Please don’t try to domesticate my grandson’s wild kindness or the Christmas psalm I now write, grateful to be his Pop:
Listen, you nations of the world,
listen to my grandson
and make his loving gaze your own.
Children of God must never be uprooted,
offspring of the Creator never left without pine.
Legs must run a silly run for the Lord.
Arms must never be separated from their bodies,
lest infants who find no room in the inn
be denied the manger of human hearts.
Sing, all people to your God,
sing a song of mercy.
Pray to your Lord for spacious spirits,
where refugees find welcoming borders
and bread enough for multitudes.
Look, you nations, at children.
Your Lord sees you with their eyes.