So I walked into the spa to find the nun holding a baby.
Okay, perhaps I should back up a bit.
Since February I have been working one afternoon a week at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, doing seated massage for (mostly) cancer patients at the chemotherapy infusion center. It’s been a great experience, and the whole idea of a Zen Pagan working at a Catholic hospital — the hospital where I was born and where my grandmother worked as a nurse — is worthy of further discussion. A post for another time.
While I spend most of my shift in the infusion center, I check in and out at Mercy’s medi-spa. And, this being a Catholic hospital, it happens that our receptionist is a nun. So today, I came down at the end of my shift to find Sister C. holding a six-week-old infant, whose mom was currently getting an acupuncture treatment.
As I got my end of shift paperwork together, Sister C. suddenly realized she had to run upstairs for a moment to retrieve our paychecks before the relevant office closed. A priority task! So I offered to take the baby for a few minutes.
Now, I’m not sure how it is in today’s gender roles for youth. But when I was a boy — back in the 1980s when we rode our dinosaurs to school — I noticed that parents would always ask teen girls, but never teen boys, if they wanted to hold a baby. I was in my 20s before I had an infant in my arms for the first time. I don’t have kids of my own (though a new relationship has me adding a tentative “yet?” to that…another topic for another time), and so holding an infant is still something I’ve done only a few times, and not for quite a few years.
But here I was, after a shift that included working with elderly cancer patients, with a tiny new life asleep in my arms. It was a moment that prompted reflection.
We had the space to ourselves, so I felt free to talk to the kid. “Hello, Baby B.” (Sister C had made sure to introduce us, so I wasn’t holding an anonymous infant.) “You, uh, sure picked quite a time to come into the world.”
I thought of how I’d heard various people saying, over the past year or two, how they didn’t know if they’d choose to bring a child into the world right now. I thought of a recent social media post by a friend of standard blue-tribe sociopolitical leanings, about how he was glad he and and wife had no kids and he was glad they wouldn’t be around to see much more of the future.
And this was a guy who probably thought of himself as “progressive”. One guy whom he finds loathsome gets elected, one minor (in historical context) plague, and he’s ready to leave future generations with nothing more than a “sorry about your luck”.
So I told Baby B., “But we’re going to keep it going for you. We owe you that.
“It’s what we owe the past. What we owe those who invented speech, writing, mathematics, music, democracy; our debt to the discoverers of coffee, tea, beer, wine, the lever, electricity. We can’t pay them royalties on their discoveries, so we pay them forward, our user’s fee for civilization.”
All right, I might not have said all of that out loud. But it’s what I thought as I considered the infant in my arms: our obligation to pay the future the debt we owe the past.