Oy. So much cynicism.
Ever since Kate Middleton gave birth to the new prince, George Alexander Louis, earlier this week, the cynics have been having their day. My Facebook feed is thick with curmudgeonly rants about the inordinate attention given to a celebrity infant, along with smug affirmations from some that they, unlike their more frivolous friends and acquaintances, couldn’t give a rat’s tush about this newborn prince.
More thoughtfully, fellow writers in the Christian blogosphere have used the hoopla over the royal birth as an example of how we, as a culture, prefer “superficial” feel-good news to more difficult but important news concerning racism, the legacies of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and poverty. My Patheos colleague Christian Piatt, writing for Sojourners, wrote:
Yes, there is more bad news in the world in a single day than any one soul can take on. Yes, sometimes there is little, if anything, we can do about the tragedies that fall heavy on our hearts. But to fall victim to the intoxicating distraction of pleasantries when our neighbors suffer stands in violent opposition to the call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christian’s observations are, to an extent, right on the money; we in our celebrity-obsessed culture often allow frivolous news to enthrall us, distracting us from more important world events. We also allow news of far-away events that don’t have much of anything to do with us distract us from being present to those right in front of us, as Elizabeth Scalia pointed out in a beautiful post on her Patheos blog. She wrote:
Too often we live as though we are looking through a constant spyglass — things far away (and mostly irrelevant to our lives) seem huge and urgent, while our ordinary everydays can seem so small and dull…The big stuff is right here; it’s the kid standing next to my desk waiting for some attention; it’s the depressed neighbor wanting five minutes of me on the porch; it’s the spouse exhausted from a hard day, who needs to hear a good word before something else takes my attention, and day is gone, and I edge closer to my own ending…
Oh yes, we are a distracted and distractable people. We do a very poor job, much of the time, of loving our neighbors, whether that means being fully present to the children and spouse with whom we share a home, or allowing our hearts to be broken and our wills to be moved by the plight of immigrants and prisoners.
But in spite of those hard truths about our misplaced attentions, I do not believe that the birth of Prince George is “an intoxicating distraction of pleasantries.” The birth of a baby is always cause for hope and celebration. Always.
I recently read Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s book Random Family, a sweeping account of two intertwined families living in poverty in the South Bronx. One theme that LeBlanc comes back to, again and again, is that for these families, whose lives are marked not only by poverty but also by incarceration and drug abuse, the arrival of a new baby is always cause for hope. Always. In Random Family, we read about a grandmother agreeing to raise her new granddaughter, believing that the new baby would “love her…with the unquestioning loyalty [she] felt she deserved but didn’t get” from her own teenaged children. We follow the births of a second, third, fourth, and fifth baby to a young woman who is continually struggling to provide for her kids, and sometimes unable to do so well enough. It is a frustrating story to read. In spite of everyone’s best intentions when another baby arrives, eventually the babies’ grandmothers or fathers or mothers lose interest, become distracted by their lovers or drug habits or despair, leave the children in the care of others whose suitability as caregivers is questionable, and expect their older children, at age seven or eight, to care for younger siblings. I breathed a sigh of relief when one young mother got her tubes tied after her fifth child.
But despite the mixed outcomes for all the babies born in the pages of Random Family, despite the frustration that readers like me feel at the combined weight of systemic poverty and family dysfunction that weighs on their small shoulders, I couldn’t help but feel that the families profiled got one thing right. A new baby is always a sign of hope and ought always to be welcomed with outsized celebration. Can we, as Christians who believe every person reflects God’s image, that every baby is a spark from the divine fires of life, let go of our worries and griefs about the world for a few minutes, and just celebrate?
The prince is getting more than the normal amount of hoopla, but hoopla is always called for when a new baby arrives. As the old saying goes, there is nothing that speaks to the triumph of hope over experience than bringing a new life into this broken world. So bring on the headlines and flashing camera bulbs and ridiculous questions posed to the new parents. Prince George is simply getting a magnified version of the welcome that all babies deserve. For a few days, I’m happy to join in the festivities. The hoopla over the royal baby doesn’t allow me to forget all that’s wrong with the world (including all the babies who don’t get welcomed as he is being welcomed). But it does help me to remember that this world is not all a vale of tears. There is hope too. If I don’t take a moment now and then to focus on the hope instead of the heartbreak, my own reserves of hope will run dry. And then I’ll be incapable of responding to the call of the gospel at all.
Welcome, George Alexander Louis. I’m glad you’re here.