The world seems a more dangerous place than ever before. Even a news junkie like me starts pressing the off button with each trumpeted description of personal, national or international tragedy, usually delivered by newscasters with a catch of excitement in their voices. As people in their sixties become grandparents, there’s a heightened sense of the hazards and instabilities of daily life. Child molestation! Tainted food! Swine Flu! Autism! Pollution! War! Inadequate health care! Faltering economy! Unemployment!
Has it always been this way? Having a new baby strikes me as the ultimate in optimistic gestures in today’s world. Children are hostages to fortune. Their parents and grandparents’ hearts rise and fall with their triumphs and despair.
Here’s an abbreviation of a poem by Wislawa Szymborska who captures the fears that I and my new grandparent friends feel, but can’t really express. There’s some comfort at the end, but it’s cold comfort.
A Tale Begun
The World is never ready
for the birth of a child.
Our ships are not yet back from Winnland.
We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass.
We’ve got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor,
fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw’s center,
gain access to King Garald the butterpat,
and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouche.
Only in Acapulco
can we begin anew.
We don’t know whom to trust in Nineveh,
what conditions the Prince-Cardinal will decree,
which names Beria has still got inside his files.
They say Karol the Hammer strikes tomorrow at dawn.
In this situation let’s appease Cheops,
report ourselves of our own free will,
pretand to be friends with the Doge
and say that we’ve got nothing to do with the Kwabe tribe.
Time to light the fires.
Let’s send a cable to grandma in Zabierzow.
Let’s untie the knots in the yurt’s leather straps.
May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.
but not so far
that it sees into the future.
that one gift,
O heavenly powers.