One of the realities of living in a social media age is that in this time of COVID-19, even though our social interactions are limited in the physical sphere, it’s easy to see when people are struggling. Some put their anxieties on display by literally posting about them, others ask to be seen by sharing an endless stream of selfies, while still others evidence their worry and fear through political rants or argumentative comments. And there’s much about which to be anxious: lost loved ones, lost jobs and livelihoods, the sense of lost time and experiences, and of times that will never be regained.
It was this sense of the fleetingness of time that prompted my husband and me to pack our winter coats, boots, and mitts, late last month, load the car with a month’s worth of essentials, and drive the two-thousand kilometres from our home—through Ontario’s blazing fall colours north of Lake Superior, and on to Winnipeg. After months of yearning, the time had come to jump through whatever pandemic hoops we needed to jump through in order to get to know our now eight-month-old grandson.
The “hoops” included three days of driving, two nights in hotels, and two weeks isolating in an Airbnb. But we were strongly motivated; not only did we long to spend time with our first grandchild, to know and be known by him, but we also hoped to demonstrate some practical support for his parents. They’d resolutely accepted the hand this pandemic had dealt them, but we knew it couldn’t have been easy caring for a newborn with no family or friends to provide even a moment of respite in all those months.
A gesture misunderstood
The day we arrived, Davy held up his arms to me in what I interpreted as an invitation. My heart leaped with joy. My daughter’s daily FaceTime calls had clearly allowed him to see me as someone familiar. But as soon as I took hold of him, he burst into tears, shocked I suppose at the realization that my once disembodied face and voice had the power to separate him from his mother.
Fortunately, he warmed up to us quickly and we’ve had a wonderful visit. My husband has relished pitching in and helping out around the house by doing minor repairs in between bouncing Davy on his knee. I’ve loved joining my daughter in the kitchen, taking long strolls, spoiling them all just a little bit, and playing and cuddling with my grandson. I’ve been thrilled to sense his growing trust in me, to perceive him relaxing into my arms as I read to him, or to feel the weight of him grow heavier as I sing and rock or slowly dance him to sleep. These experiences have been such gifts.
But there have been other gifts too—gifts of watching Davy with his parents. He is closely bonded, and deeply secure. When upset, he likes to soothe himself by stroking his mother’s long brown hair the way some children stroke a blanket or stuffed toy. If he goes for too many hours without clutching her tresses, I can see him, like an addict, grow antsy for his next fix.
On a recent shopping excursion, as I pushed his stroller he started to fuss. It was getting close to nap time, and I became aware of a new sense of urgency in my daughter as she recognized it was time to head home. We were only a short drive away, but we both began to wonder if we would make it before he completely erupted.
When circumstances bind and blind us
You see, Davy dislikes his infant car seat—even when he is rested and his tummy is full. He is an active baby and he hates being immobilized. In the enforced rear-facing position he cannot see his mother. He doesn’t understand that she secures him there to keep him safe. And he cannot know when he is buckled in how long the drive will last—or that he will soon be home with her again, released from his confines, and taken up into her arms.
So it was in a moment of motherly inspiration—or desperation—that on our way out of the mall, my daughter dashed into a dollar store and purchased a cheap hair extension. Climbing into the back of the car with him for the trip home, I unwrapped and offered the ridiculous thing.
The moment he gripped it, his crying stopped. It was instantaneous. Stroking and pulling at the hair he murmured contentedly, the whole way home.
He was unhappy. He was in a situation beyond his control. He couldn’t see or touch his mother, and he needed to. But that hairpiece served as a sensory reminder of the comfort she brings. And it was enough.
Amused and amazed as I watched him clutch it and listened to his purring, a long-forgotten song lyric came to mind:
When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.
It had been years since I’d thought of the song, maybe even decades, so it seemed inexplicable that it should come to me then. When I got home I looked it up.
A pandemic hymn?
Here are the complete lyrics of the song called, “Trust His Heart”:
All things work for our good
Though sometimes we don’t see
How they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth: Our Father knows what’s best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just don’t see Him,
Remember you’re never alone
God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His Heart
He sees the master plan
And He holds our future in His hand,
So don’t live as those who have no hope,
All our hope is found in Him. We see the present clearly
But He sees the first and the last
And like a tapestry, He’s weaving you and me,
To someday be just like Him
God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind …
I’ve been singing it to myself ever since.
Singer-songwriter Babbie Mason popularized the words of the refrain, which are thought to have originated in this sermon, “A Happy Christian,” by nineteenth-century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
It is, I think, a perfect song for this time of the pandemic. If you are struggling right now because life is too hard, because you are scared or grieving, or anxious because there is so much going on in our world over which you have no control, I invite you to have a listen. And maybe also to remember my grandson.
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (RSV)