We have watched the rain outside switch from a hazy drizzle to snowflakes all day long. I pulled on Noah’s jacket and wrestled him while he tried to stand up, sliding one sock and shoe on at a time, hoping they would last longer than the car ride. Today, I took Noah to a local nursing home to visit a family member. As we walked inside, I couldn’t help but fixate on the most recent posts on social media and news warning of colds, flu viruses, RSV, and other dangerous bugs floating around waiting to infect a small baby. A buzzer sounded as the code was punched in to the alarm system, protecting those inside from the outside. I held him tightly as he stared up at the florescent lights.
Strangers who were chair ridden stretched their arms out to him as we walked by, cooing and trying to connect with him. He flashed his best smile, flirting with the crowd like usual. They called him beautiful, handsome, and a perfect baby. As his mama, I couldn’t help but agree (and I was secretly thankful that he didn’t chose this time to pitch one of his toddler fits that have been starting to bubble on the surface). A woman asked to hold him, and I politely declined with a smile. I tried to kindly mention we didn’t want him to come down with any sickness, but she was welcome to wave to Noah and blow kisses to him. He juggled making friends and balancing while walking through the hallways, holding onto my fingers for support. His new-found mobility made it hard to keep him in my arms because he certainly prefers crawling and independently standing compared to cuddling these days.
We spent a little time chatting with family and catching up. Noah scoped out the colorful candy bowl and was captivated by the black and white movie playing in the background. I found myself reflecting on visiting the nursing home with my family when I was a child. Christmas carols were sang to cheer friends and family members up. Hard candy was always a staple, butterscotch candy being the ever popular bribery treat for sitting still. And the memories of that distinct smell of nursing homes, of age and idleness, a smell that lingers in every one of them probably.
Sitting in the small apartment style room and holding my sweet baby, I also spent some time thinking about my grandmother. She spent the last few days of her life in a nursing home with comfort care. I thought about holding her hand and singing to her as she slipped away from the world. Often times, when I think of these places and memories, I feel a sadness creep into my bones. I felt that today. I think of the loneliness and changing of life, how it can pass by so quickly and quietly for so many people.
As we made outside to head home, a woman stopped us in the entrance. Noah rubbed his eyes, and I held him closely as people continued to wave at him. He needed to make it home in time for his upcoming nap.
“Thank you for sharing him today,” she whispered.
Why is it that these days, I find it so much easier to share life with Noah from the quiet of my home instead of the commotion of public? That I would choose to share highlights of our life through social media instead of discussing them with friends in person? Why is it that I find it so much easier to seek connection through the internet instead of real life? For some reason, I chose the ease and comfort of sharing in the solitude of my screen, instead of being with out with strangers who need joy more than anyone else.
I could tell you that I was afraid to take Noah into a nursing home because of sickness, because we didn’t have time, or because there would be strangers all around. But the truth of the matter is, I was nervous to take him because of how hard it would be for those memories to come back to me. I was fearful to share my joy because I knew it would be difficult for me personally to go into a nursing home. And I knew it could be difficult for strangers there to see our joy, too.
We too often struggle to look those in the eyes, like people in nursing homes or the homeless or even our friends who are grieving, and share our joy authentically. We think maybe our happiness can increase their sadness. Or it may even cause us a little heartache too. The often overlooked truth that joy can be held right with sadness at the same time. Instead of being afraid to show up, in person, we need to love right where we are. In joy and sadness, connection and loneliness, happiness and heartache – it is in sharing that things get messy. It is in sharing that things get hard. But the beauty is that we all have the chance to do it together, and I would much rather share those moments in person than hide behind my screen any longer.
Sure, I’ll hold onto my baby in public closely. I’ll try my best to protect him from the world, people, and illness during this life. But I will happily share him today and every day with those who might need it most. Chris McCandless once wrote, “Happiness is only real when shared.” You might know him as the subject of the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, a young man whose life ended in isolation after setting off on a solitary journey in the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless is someone who would certainly know about the consequences of detachment. If sharing joy in the world is the small thing I can do to make a small impact on my community, I plan to do so going forward. I hope you also can find tiny ways to be fearless and joyful in the days ahead.