I just got around to reading the final 2012 issue of the NY Times magazine; they always end the year with "The Lives They Lived," a collection of bios of people who died that year. It's a good mix of interesting lives, some that ended too soon (the Beasties' Adam Yauch) and some right on time ("Oh, God, there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready." --Maurice Sendak). Didn't seem like there were any that went on too long - but that's a topic for another post, another day.
Mostly extraordinary folks, with a smattering of more ordinary. But the thing that I kept thinking as I read was that every one of them started out as a little baby, perfect and innocent and with a whole life ahead of them. (No, this is not going to segue into anything about Newtown or related incidents, though that was mentioned in the magazine too. It's just too sad, there's nothing I can add to that except more heartbreak and anger, which is not where I want to go with this post.) All those people were once a tiny bundle of need, of adorable, of instinct and emotion and raw materials. Someone took the time to feed them and respond to their cries and find tiny socks to fill their tiny toes with sock fuzz, to watch them grow, to clean up their poop, and, hopefully, to surround them with love.
And those babies responded by transforming. Their baby survival tactics (be cute and be loud!) got them through those first months, got them standing on their own two feet and making their way in the world. And they made good choices and bad choices, and they continued to grow and change and become, reacting and learning and adapting to the world around them. Until they got to the end, and we read about them in the paper, and reflected on their lives and our own.
As I stare at my own baby, now 3 months old, with his oh-so-kissable chubby cheeks and enormous grin and quivering lips and grasping fingers - and I do stare, all the time, all day long, and there is no better view in the world - that's what I see: a whole life of possibility ahead. He's still so totally unformed (and yet so perfectly formed, right down to the eyelashes and ear folds; how does that happen? It's completely ridiculous and amazing and miraculous. Go biology!) - even my 3-year-old has begun to narrow his paths simply by becoming who he is, so far removed from the babe he once was. (Nature? Nurture? Surely some of both, and we may never know the difference)
I realize this is no great insight, that all adults were once babies, that all babies have a future wide open ahead of them (well, some have more width in their future than others; once again, another post...). But I just can't stop thinking about it, thinking back on the paths that all those written about took. About how it all comes back to a tiny seed, bursting with hope and joy and wonder. Something so small - accidental, even, in some cases, and really hard work in others - turns into something so great. Who will you be, little man? As Dr. Seuss says: "You are you, and that's truer than true!"