First off, can we agree that the bustling world of Big People is very often a mess? I don't consider myself a pessimist, more like a hopeful realist, but I think we so-called adults can be too busy, too complicated, too angry, too focused on work, too focused on the weekend, too selfish, too serious... (or is this just my reflection in the mirror?).
From whence shall come our help? To whom can we turn in this dark hour to save us from ourselves? How do we un-adult-erate the situation and get back to the simplicity of the "little children" who shall inherit the Kingdom? Do we look to the skies? Is it a bird, a plane, a self-help section? NO! Look down, it's a baby! It's time to obey those neighborhood street signs that command us to "Watch Children."
Recently, my wife and I adopted our second child, a beautiful baby girl. She was just two days old when we first laid eyes on her (and honestly we haven't taken our eyes away since!). Once again, God has given us the key for growing in holiness and happiness; a prolonged and profound dose of baby-gazing. This is what can save Planet Earth! I believe the remedy for war and terror lies in this simple act: that all men and women whose hearts are dark and angry, sullen or selfish, hurried or hollow, should hold newborns and contemplate life's fragile and superfluous beauty. Relish the gift. Receive the gift. That'll fix ya.
Last week, as if our little daughter wasn't enough of an elixir for wonderment, we rented a film we've been waiting to see called BABIES. It follows the lives of four very different families with four very similar infants from all over the globe, from birth to about the age of first steps.
With a simple and minimalist manner, director Thomas Balmès lets us in on the precarious chain of events that turns babies into toddlers, from fumbling fists and bobbing heads, to learning to grasp, and play, giggle and crawl, to the final cinematic triumph of standing with the Big People. Throughout the film, we see essentially what babies see, having the camera cropped at that classic Charlie Brown height, where adults only appear as towering legs, and disembodied voices.
We loved the movie BABIES, although at times we hated the seeming absence of adults in certain scenes - namely the ones in the open fields of Mongolia where little Bayar was crawling in between the gangly legs of goats and cows. Yes, we see the utter (no pun intended) vulnerability of these wee babes, but not just in the rural parts of the world, or the ancient ways of the Himba tribe living in their dirt floor huts with no water to wash their children. Even little Hattie, from San Francisco, has her own brush with a serious booboo at a local park. What was daddy thinking?
But BABIES isn’t all hair-raising thrills of course. It’s chock full of intimate scenes, little discoveries, and wide-eyed wonder. It brought to mind Chesterton’s thought that the “fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade... that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea...” (from the essay "In Defense of Baby Worship" 1903.)
Through Balmès’ vision, exempt of essentially any dialogue, we get a taste of that fascination again. But it might be tough for us Big Folk, used to explosions and fast-paced car chases. The film moves at a healthy crawl. This is good. We adults need to slow down. And we need to look up again too, like children. Though many of the shots are close-cropped, we often get big sky expanses that make us feel like the little ones again.
Though the “stars” of the films are the babies, (and shouldn’t they be in every family?), there are bonding moments in the movie between father and child, and mother and child especially. Readers should know this intimacy finds its purest expression in the breastfeeding scenes with Ponijao. Those sensitive to their older children seeing bare breasts supplying the gift of milk to their newborns might want to practice caution in viewing. I would say, though, to consider using it as a teaching moment for the little ones. Don’t we need a healthy and total vision of femininity and motherhood in our present pop culture, where the parts are so often accented that we lose the person? Here I think the Third World is way ahead of us. Here is the most ancient and beautiful bond being formed anew, and we are invited to drink it in just as well as the newborns.
I have discovered that BABIES, the film, and babies, the reality again in our home, have the potential to pull the selfless out of the selfish. When you become a Mommy or a Daddy, powers are unleashed that could not have been extracted in any other way, except perhaps through some great suffering or sacramental grace. It's amazing, exhausting, exhilarating.... "It is life nearest the bone where it is sweetest," wrote Thoreau. And looking at these little ones, we come to learn that’s really all we need. Life, as the film and our families proclaim, is good. Behold, it is very good.
I’ll close with the Top 10 Reasons Why Babies Will Save the Human Race:
10. Babies make adults talk to each other in parks, who normally might not give each other the time of day. Talking to people builds friendships, friendships build communities, communities build parks. Babies hang out in parks (and around and around we go!)
9. Babies are utterly dependent on us, reminding us that we are utterly dependent on God. So we get a God’s Eye view of things for a spell; a little insight into what HE must be feeling for us.
8. Babies learn everything from their parents, by watching, listening, studying, and looking up at Mommy and Daddy.... and so should we. Looking up at the world in wonder is always better than looking down on it as if you’ve conquered it.
7. Babies are the greatest "man-made" creations in the universe; they shall grow up and outlive the stars, each in their own way altering the course of human history, each absolutely unique and unrepeatable. Wow. We need more babies!
6. Babies are completely innocent, regardless of the way they were conceived, and have no guile, no sarcasm, no agendas. They are pure as the driven snow, fresh as a sea breeze, vulnerable as a flower. We need more purity, sea breezes, and flowers in this world.
5. Babies are meant to be the fruit of the loving marital embrace of a man and a woman; the word and act of their love becomes flesh! This human “trinity” of Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them is an icon of the Eternal Mystery of Who God is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! It’s the Great Dance of Love transposed into time and space in human love!
4. Let’s just read #5 again because that was INTENSE.
3. Babies are aware of everything and everything amazes them: lights, noise, colors, tinfoil, keys. We could all stand to be amazed again by the ordinary things around us.
2. Babies see the world as their playground, a wonderful gift made just for them. And so should we.
1. Dr. Peter Kreeft once said that God continues to make Himself present in two places - at the altar and in the womb. What more can we say? Let's reverence Him in this hidden places, and find ourselves born again!
Originally published in the Catholic Standard & Times