I heard the car drive up our gravel driveway. Mia, my wife Becky as she is known by our grandchildren, and Elsa, my darling two-year old granddaughter, were home. I had just finished a section in a book on sexual abuse that is a retrospective of my twenty-five years since writing The Wounded Heart. What I had finished writing was a story of a friend of mine whose abuse perpetrated by her grandfather, father, and brothers is as egregious and sickening as any story I have heard in my labor.
I had come to a stopping point and needed to step away from writing. I simply couldn’t bear any more heartache. It was also near 11am and it seemed well with my body to have an early lunch. I closed my file and began to walk down my garage office stairs to go next door. The mind is a sly fox. I was thinking about the woman I had been writing about and before I took my first step the image of my granddaughter took her place. How is it possible for the heart, let alone mind, to shift so fast?
Elsa is quietly intense. She fills the room with life even when she is quietly moving her crayons over a blank page. She is focused, intentional, and beautifully odd like her mother. Sassy, my daughter-in-law, is a quirky, beautiful, tender, focused, and brilliant Montessori educator. My son is brilliant enough to have married her and is a sufficiently beautiful soul to have attracted her. I love to see the three of them together, on the floor, playing with Elsa who knows deep in her soul the intensity of delight and the kindness of containment.
All this passed through my mind before I crossed the final step and went outside. The wind was whipping and rain hit my face. All thoughts quieted. I entered our house and heard my wife shout to Elsa: “Papa is home.” I turned the corner and Mia stood by the sink and Elsa was at her leg, one arm curled around her thigh, her head nestled.
Elsa’s left hand raised, and I heard her say: “Hi, Papa.” I had never heard Elsa greet me with a wave of the hand and the word “Hi.” It was said loudly and clearly. I nearly laughed. I was so surprised, but before I could respond she took off running toward me.
It is hard to describe the way Elsa runs. My wife and I walk with her often. She holds Mia’s finger for 3 seconds and then she is off running. It is not sufficient to say she is fast. She is. But it is not merely her precocious speed that is tantalising; it is her abandon. She runs with her body. Most people run with their legs and their arms and the rest of the body motors along. Some young children run and their lack of coordination scatters their parts in different directions. Elsa has both speed and fluidity, and I have come to believe her intent is to fly.
There is something about Elsa that is ethereal, light-bound, and beautiful like a bird. She is life incarnate and when she ran to me, arms open, squealing my name I felt overwhelmed. I knelt before her and opened my arms to receive the light of love. I am her Papa, but in that moment I was a servant waiting to be blessed by a Princess. How can my heart feel so much like a child about to be received and swept up by love, and be an old man about to sweep my granddaughter up in my arms?
This is the nature of advent. We need to prepare our heart to be received by a child, open-hearted. I look to the light of love and find my being simultaneously so young, so old. I am meant to hold the Christ Child as one young enough to know that I will never get too old or tired to be greeted, delighted in, and pursued. Merry Christmas.