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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Next Generation is Announced

A few weeks ago, my wife Jenny and I both received the same text message from our eldest daughter.  It consisted of a gnomic message, ‘You can all chill out now’, and a strange image. I turned the phone upside down and sideways on to try to decode the picture but it eluded me – in any case, on a smart phone the image simply turns with the device.  Then my wife got it.  ‘It’s a baby!’ she exclaimed, ‘an ultrasound’, and it all became clear.  This was Jo’s understated way of telling us that we were to become grandparents.  (The invitation to ‘chill out’ referenced frequent conversations since her wedding about becoming pregnant, something that various female members of our family hoped would happen quickly.)

It was like the news of President Kennedy’s assassination, Diana’s death and 9/11, or perhaps I should say the happier tidings of London winning the Olympics: I knew I would always recall where I was and what I was doing when this family news broke. As it happened, on all four occasions I was not doing anything very special, and this simply underlined the significance of these unforgettable kairos occasions. 

Jo and Will have spent the past week with us in France. The Leitmotif  has been the baby who is to be born in early February just before Lent begins.  (Since first children are often a few days late, and with Shrove Tuesday in mind, the poor child’s working title in utero has become ‘Pan’, short for pancake.)  Names have been discussed and allocated to long- and short-lists; the joys and ordeals of confinement have been dissected in all their particulars; advice has been given on lifestyle and diet during pregnancy; suitable reading about childbirth and parenting recommended.

It’s only just beginning to strike me what a big change this is going to mean for us all.  For a whole family, a first childbirth is a rite of passage which brings new roles and responsibilities: at a stroke, it is not just an infant who will be born but new parents, aunts, an uncle, a great grandmother and – to come to the point of writing this at all – grandparents.  At a stroke, my wife and I will be elevated to the third generation.  Among our extended family who are still alive, we shall be almost at the top of the genealogical tree.  We shall be officially old.  At least, that is one way of reflecting on this news.  It makes us think about how life is passed on, how our genes have done their work. It comes at a time when retirement is no longer over the horizon but hurtling towards us with a speed that is sometime alarming.  And after that, another great rite of passage: death. 

But I don’t entertain such thoughts for very long.  It’s a cliché to say it but I don’t feel especially old.  In one sense I don’t feel ready for grandparenthood yet.  I tell myself I am still (relatively) young, with (relatively) plenty of energy and love of life.  No, the feeling that is uppermost at this early stage of adjusting to this news is how wonderful it is, what a miracle the transmission of life to the next generation really is.  I find I am thinking back to Jo’s own birth, being there in the maternity ward as she came into the world, holding her within minutes of her being born. I recall the midwife addressing our new-born daughter: ‘one day, it will be your turn to go through all this’; one day you will know the struggle and the exhilaration yourself.

Well, that day is now coming.  I am thinking about it a lot, imagining what it will be like to hold my own flesh and blood once again, and watch this so-wanted child grow up and receive and learn to give back the love that will be so abundantly showered on this new member of the human race.  And thinking too of how divine Love is at work in the mysteries and sacraments of ordinary human living and loving. 

There will be much to blog about in the next few months.