On June 22, 2016, on Wednesday morning at 1:46 am in Rochester’s Highland Hospital, Mendon Joseph Payne came into the world. By all accounts he is a perfect baby.
Writing as a gushingly charmed and improbably wonder filled new dad, I completely concur with this assessment. But truth be told, there is no such thing as an imperfect baby. As far as I can tell, there are no cute babies or ugly babies; there are no crack babies or healthy babies: there are just babies. They are all perfect, unprecedented, miraculously inspired creations.
Essentially that is who we all are.
Sadly, along the way, we gradually begin to unlearn our perfection. We become adults. We begin to despise each other for imperfections that we simply invented out of thin air. These artificial standards such as height, weight, mobility, strength, head shape, skin tone, birthmarks, penis formation, hearing and vision aptitude, lip and tongue placement, and hundreds of other physical features are recorded and ranked thus robbing us of our gift to be perfect.
I often wonder if all forms of social, personal, and spiritual violence stem from an unwillingness to accept our innate flawlessness. This is certainly a fundamental tenet of many eastern religions. The Buddha taught his disciples: “We already have perfect compassion, perfect wisdom, perfect joy. We only need to settle our own minds so they can arise from deep within us.” And according to Lao Tzu, “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.”
Yes indeed. If we could just peer into the eyes of our enemy and perceive them as the absolutely perfect baby they came into the world as, we could never bring ourselves to seek their destruction. But we allow ourselves to grow up. We get “older.” We turn into someone else. We become imperfect. Somehow our language is no longer good enough. The way our hair looks is wrong. The way we sit or stand is no longer proper. We begin to believe that everything we do could be done by someone else- only better; and through this ceaselessly hostile process of self denial, we grow to despise not just other people but ourselves as well.
So here I am, only a mere 48 hours into this university of awareness called fatherhood, and what I am witnessing each time I gaze into the mirror of Mendon’s eyes is a picture of my better self. I see my reflection through his eyes and it makes me love myself again. All I see is what I need to see. Everything else is incinerated into the infinitude of his dusky cobalt blue pupils and redeemed. He reminds me.
That said, the ultimate quest is to apprehend everyone-not just Mendon- with this same gaze of unconditional idealism. I want to pass by a stranger at the bus stop and see their purity too. I want to feel the same radical acceptance with them as I do when I am swaddling my newborn son. During these past 48 hours I have been reminded that people are capable of tremendous acts of selflessness, compassion, integrity, courage, mindfulness, and respect. I have been reminded that each baby who comes into this world is alight with these virtues without even trying. They are messengers of God’s faultless sublimity.
If only we all could remember that we are still those babies! We are also manifestations of God’s transcendence and completion. Each of us came into this world naked but clothed in goodness. We were all soaked in the same bloody, purplish fluid of the placenta yet glimmering with radiant hope. We cried a little just to tell the world that it is worth crying for. Our rapture was to breath. Our holiness was to sleep. Our sainthood was to smile. Our divinity was to be alive.