by Nancy Dahlberg
One year our family spent the holidays in San Francisco with my husband’s parents. Christmas was on a Sunday that year, and in order for us to be back at work on Monday, we had to drive the four hundred miles back home to Los Angeles on Christmas Day.
When we stopped for lunch in King City, the restaurant was nearly empty. We were the only family, and ours were the only children. I heard Erik, our one‐year‐old, squeal with glee: “Hi there. Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands—whack, whack—on the metal tray of the high chair. His face was alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled, chirped, and giggled. Then I saw the source of his merriment—and my eyes could not take it all in at once. It was a man wearing a tattered rag of a coat, obviously bought eons ago, and dirty, greasy, worn pants. His toes poked out of used‐to‐be shoes, and his shirt had ring‐around‐the‐collar all over. He had a face like none other—with gums as bare as Erik’s. “Hi there, baby,” the disheveled man said.
“Hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster.” My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between “What do we do?” and “Poor devil.” Our meal came, and the cacophony continued. Now the old bum was shouting from across the room: “Do you know patty‐cake? Atta boy—do ya know peek‐a‐boo? Hey, look—he knows peek‐a‐boo!”
Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hi there.” Every call was echoed. Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. I was embarrassed. My husband, Dennis, was humiliated. Even our six‐year‐old said, “Why is that old man talking so loud?”
As Dennis went to pay the check, he whispered for me to get Erik and meet him in the parking lot. Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik, I prayed as I bolted for the door.
It was soon obvious that both the Lord and Erik had other plans. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back, trying to sidestep him—and any air he might be exhaling. As I did, Erik, with his eyes riveted on his new friend, leaned far over my arm and reached out with both hands in a baby’s “pick me up” position.
In the split second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye‐to‐eye with the old man. Erik was lunging for him, arms spread wide.
The bum’s eyes both asked and implored, “Would you let me hold your baby?”
There was no need for me to answer because Erik propelled himself from my arms into the man’s. Suddenly a very old man and very young baby clutched each other in a loving embrace. Erik laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands—roughened by grime and pain and hard labor—gently, so gently, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back.
I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm, commanding voice, “You take care of this baby.”
Somehow I managed to squeeze the words “I will” from a throat that seemed to have a stone lodged in it.
He pried Erik from his chest—unwillingly, longingly—as though he were in pain.
I held my arms open to receive my baby, and again the gentleman addressed me.
“God bless you, ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.” I could only mutter, “Thanks.” With Erik back in my arms, I hurried toward the car. Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly and saying, “My God, my God, forgive me.”
Imagine for a moment viewing the world from a baby’s perspective. Everything would fascinate you: the bright colors, the strange noises, and most certainly, the people. You’d want to touch, taste, and explore each one. Would you avert your eyes at the sight of a friendly bum? Of course not—even if he was toothless. Curious and trusting, you would return the bum’s smile, then hold out your hands to give him a hug.
Babies see the world in a different light, don’t they? They don’t worry about what others think, and they don’t prejudge others on the basis of appearance. Unfortunately, as adults we tend to go “blind”—to each other and to those around us—to what God is doing in our world. This week we’ll talk about how we can learn to see in a fresh way— through God’s loving eyes.
- James C Dobson