About my grandson. About inheriting visceral empathy. About being lucky enough to have my daughter as a mother.
Let's back up a little, first, though.
As teenagers, my sisters and I liked to watch the Dating Game on daytime television. I say we liked to watch, but I'm not sure we enjoyed it greatly. It was painful to watch the gaffs and blunders these beautiful young people would make, blithely thinking they were not doing anything embarrassing. but we knew differently, so we got embarrassed for them. We pulled into ourselves and sat with our legs curled up under us on the couch and would even sometimes bury our heads, exclaiming, "What a cut!" and feel real and true blushing embarrassment.
I remember wondering why those foolish people weren't the ones being embarrassed instead of us, but I never came up with an answer. We had always felt things that others felt or were supposed to have felt in probably all aspects of life. It was a sensitive intuition, as if we could climb right on up into other people's feelings.
We probably got that, at least in part, via our mother, who was a very sensitive and shy little girl, growing up to be less shy and more fun-loving as a teenager herself, but continuing into adulthood with more empathy for others than most people we knew. We seven offspring each had our own excruciatingly shy periods of childhood and beyond, and to this day live our own versions of being introverted and also, not so shy and introverted. I'm not shy anymore. Ever. But I do know where my internal safe places are.
It's not so much the shyness and introversion, though, that I'm trying to write about. More it's this empathy and magnetism of others' feelings that I would like to explore a bit.
When I was in the fourth grade, we got a new student in our classroom. She was 16 years old. She looked like a teenager, but she spoke and behaved in a much younger way that called me to be her protector. Oh, the innocence and vulnerability! I was so excited and warmed to run home and tell my mother that I had a new friend in my class, who I felt like taking under my wing. The others in our class were welcoming at first, but eventually, some of them either learned or remembered how easy it is to be mean.
I came home one day and told my mother that kids made fun of Sabrina today. She looked very concerned and stopped what she was doing to hear what I had to say about that. I told her more and she just looked at me and said, "Well, Penny!" as if we were equals in our inability to understand that sort of cruelty coming from children or to really protect Sabrina from them--as if she were saying what in the world can we do to make this not be true?
I had to turn my face away to hide my tears. I hadn't shed tears for Sabrina, however much compassion I might have felt for her. It was my mother's hurt that hurt me, and the depth of my own hurt that I didn't want to expose. It was such a pure and raw feeling that to this day I marvel at the experience, and I hear the tone in my mother's voice as she spoke those two words that continues to speak volumes to me.
So it is, I have come to believe some things about my grandson, now, and think he must have come by some of this intuitive feeling of others' feelings, quite honestly, as they say.
As you may or may not know, Desmond's mummy, our Katy, believes that love is just that. Love. You bestow it, you pour it out, you drink it in, you let it happen to you and you revel in it. It distills in your blood. You don't prorate or ration it out, or sell it or attach strings to it. You don't toughen it up or water it down. You can't, because if you do that, it's not love anymore. When it is love, it's own true self, all you can really do is harmonize with its plucking at your joyously aching heartstrings.
I know this about her because, well, she's my daughter and I know her, and more recently, she's my grandson's mother and now I know her more and better. I experience her through Desmond's complete adoration of her. His safety and calm courage in her presence and beyond. His liberty. His place.
Does anyone remember what I wrote about his birth more than three years ago? Let me remind you. "...the swelling, welling emotions in those first moments are probably quite universal, but something happened to me that I did not expect. I immediately starting loving everyone in the whole wide world! I imagined what this baby looked like (before they could get around to texting pictures) and I actually felt palpable feelings of LOVe lovE Love--just love...for everyone. My mind said to me, "You love everyone! This is a gift that came with Desmond."
I harbor and protect the belief that his emergence into this world actually, literally, PHYSICALLY FOR REAL, created an erosive current in my sensibilities, carving upon my soul's frame, the lovely, wild and majestic canyons where thoughts of him are daily carried and spirited through twists and turns I can't see ahead of me.
I should be better than I am because of all of this. I should be perfect. How am I still human?!
Katy and Desmond know how to feel. Sometimes they can even speak their feelings, which comes in handy, in case you're wondering. Desmond can name his sadness, for example, and because of that I think he can name my sadness. Sometimes when he has been disappointed his softly plaintive little voice informs, "I'm sad. I'm so, so sad. It's sad."
When his parents picked his life up with theirs and moved away from where I live just a couple of months ago, he didn't really understand what was happening. He knew he was riding in a shiny, big, blue truck for a lot of hours and ended up in a sort of familiar place and stayed there where I wasn't. I haven't seen him since then. (I never thought two months could be so long, long, interminably long!)
We talk on the phone. The first time he heard my voice on the other end of the line, he emitted a strange and strangled hurt-animal cry and began telling of the sadness, again. It was so upsetting to him that his mother and I couldn't really finish our phone call and she needed to hang up to comfort him. The next time I called, the same sort of thing happened, to a bit of a lesser degree. He immediately sounded sad and said sad and eventually calmed a bit. Since then, my name has changed. When I call, I am now, "Sad," but it's not said in a sad voice. It's just the pronunciation of my name, "Sad."
He's a funny little fella. At first, it made me cry in my own throat, to hear him be sad, but the more I think about it, the more I think he was giving a name to the feeling I was transmitting to him. I didn't sound sad. I was excited to talk to them! He could just sense that I was sad. And I was. And am. I miss him so very much!!
Is it so far-fetched to believe that in addition to his maybe missing me with all the huge changes in his life, he actually intuits my sadness? Actually feels it in his feelings? It's in the ions in the air?
I think it's not that far-fetched.