She held him so gently, and he was so soft.

“Madonna della Scala,” Correggio

I remember visiting a friend of mine when she was a brand new mom. Her husband welcomed me inside and whispered for me to be extra supportive. “She was cutting our baby’s nails, and cut her finger a little. She’s devastated.”

I walked over to the living room, and found my friend holding her little baby in her arms. She didn’t seem to notice my entrance. She just cradled her newborn against her chest, long hair shielding them both as she tilted her head down and rocked gently where she stood. It was, for me, so beautiful I could not speak. I had no idea what to say anyway.

My friend looked up at me, dark eyes wide and wet and vulnerable: “I hurt my baby.”

And there it was, all the messy hurt of a tender mother and a tender child. There was something true in it that I have not forgotten, and that continues to surpass me now.

I remember listening quietly as my friend mourned that first tiny wound with me. I remember how very soft her baby’s skin felt as I held her. I remember gently brushing a thumb over her forehead, amazed. And I was amazed at my friends, whose baby this was.

All babies are surprisingly soft. Their skin is delicate and new, and just the warmth of it is enough to astound. Before widening to consider a baby’s dignity, or future, or anything so grand – I am amazed at how soft a baby is, how vulnerable.

And I am heartbroken to imagine that first wellspring of blood and hurt. However small. There is something in it that surpasses me.

As we prepare for Christmas, I cannot help but think of these things. As words spin across the Internet, weaving every golden thread of meaning possible. It feels so bright. It feels so loud. Perhaps because I am so fragile myself: it is so, so loud.

The world is very loud, very violent. So much blood and hurt.

Even in the Christian outrage against the CIA torture efforts – justifiable outrage – I feel myself overwhelmed and lost. Perplexed at the various arguments that seek to show how insane torture is, how wrong. Not that I disagree. Only that my ears hurt at the volume, and I wonder at its purpose.

Perhaps to mask our heartbreak.

Yes, Jesus was hurt. And Mary wept. And it is wrong, so wrong, to physically and psychologically destroy anyone, anyone at all.

I struggle to understand it. This response. Struggle to understand how it would reach anyone, anyone at all, who hurts. Jesus hurt, and Mary wept, and it was wrong – what happened to you, and you, and you. How many millions of times must we say it? How many hundreds of millions of times until the coldness of such words echoes back to us?

This Christmas, I keep thinking of the softness of that baby Mary held. How vulnerable they both were. How she cradled him in her arms, so gently. How aware of hardness of the world she must have been, and how aware of his softness. Dreading that first little wellspring of blood and hurt.

I do not know what to think, except to say to my Mother that I am soft too. That we all are so very fragile. That I want so much to be held when I hurt so badly it feels impossible. Just impossible. The hurt. And I don’t want to be forgotten.

I wonder if we threaten to forget the tortured, the broken, as we decry the wrong done to them. It’s easier to decry it, sometimes. Easier than holding them, holding that shattered human being, and whispering softly: “Oh child, you are so hurt.”

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One thought on “She held him so gently, and he was so soft.

  1. Paul Giurlanda says:

    I suppose the feeling I have on hearing of “us” torturing people is not so much outrage at torturers but the feeling of vulnerability, somewhat as you describe: if this can happen to someone, this total destruction of a person, why couldn’t it happen to me? Do I get a pass from this horror? And thus we move on to theodicy, and even more personally, to naked trust or despair.

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