Yes, I mean this. Babies are also “the worst roommates,” as the comedian Jim Gaffigan puts it: “They’re unemployed. They don’t pay rent. They keep insane hours. Their hygiene is horrible. If you had a roommate that did any of the things babies do, you’d ask them to move out.”
A baby has no use. But then again, neither does art or music or friendship or even love. These are all “useless”…they aren’t meant to be “used,” they aren’t meant for productivity or the production of commodities. We’ve come to accept the dangerous lie that a thing (or even a person) is only valuable insofar that it is “useful.” We’ve been indoctrinated with this and thus feel wasteful if we’re not being “productive” with our day, yet this Western activism and busyness does not satisfy our weary souls. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony has no productive use, but you would be hard-pressed to argue that it doesn’t enrich my life. Just as good art and music and friendship can lead us out of our incessant production-based outlook on the scope of life, so, too, do babies.
Babies jolt us out of our slumber. Babies take us out of ourselves and make us less selfish people. Babies use their hidden powers to manipulate us into to making high-pitched sounds and silly faces, and they somehow “Jedi mind trick” us into crawling around on the floor to chase them from one end of the house to the other (and then back again). When you see a friend’s baby, you simply want to look at the baby. You’re not expecting to put the baby to work or to make your day more productive (thank goodness). But even merely looking at a baby gives you something more valuable than production. A baby restores in us the lost art of wonder.
In 1903, G.K. Chesterton wrote an essay titled “In Defence of Baby Worship.” This excerpt is fantastic:
“The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always to remember 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…If we could see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse.”
Babies jar us, if we are open to marvel and wonder at the universe. There is no boredom for all things are made new everyday. Beyond babies, what if we could be awakened to the marvel of every created human life? It would probably take forever to get to work or even walk down the street, but what a beautiful endeavor it would be.
I truly believe that our baby Abigail is a missionary of joy. In airports, in subways, and on the streets where men and women no longer make eye contact or even look each other, our baby possesses the superpower to break through people’s malaise and zombie-dom. The pessimism and gloom vanish when our little apostle is waving and demanding a returned smile from the nearest passerby. She’s got that “Apostolate of a Smile” that Mother Teresa demanded of her novices (we’ve already promised our daughter to about three religious orders…I’m sure she’ll be fine with that).
Abigail’s extroverted nature and her radiant joy challenge me to smile more and to let my own apostolate be one of peaceful wonder at the foot of God’s creation before activism or ministry ever take place. We need to relearn how to sit and simply be. Mary before Martha. Receptivity before production.
Be like a baby today. Be useless for once.
“What we need…is to abandon this one-sided, Western activist outlook, lest we degrade the Church to a product of our creation and design. The Church is not a manufactured item; she is, rather, the living seed of God that must be allowed to grow and ripen.” -Joseph Ratzinger, Mary: The Church at the Source
“Wonder at reality demands the humility to sit at the foot of a dandelion. The proud are so full of themselves that there is little room to marvel at anything else. Saints are typically awestruck at an insect, a flower, a star, because they are burning with love and rooted in a perceiving honesty. That is, they are humble.” -Fr. Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty