I did something today that I haven’t done in quite a while. I held a 3-month-old baby, the daughter of two of my former students. She is a fine example of the breed — bright eyed and lovely, sufficiently small and dainty enough that I was as nervous as ever while I held her. Years ago, my dad told me that what he really hoped for from me was that I would be “not necessarily a gentleman — although that would be nice — but a gentle man”, and I try to be. But because of my size and awkwardness, I’m always a little nervous around babies and delicate objects, and whenever I hold either, I flash on either Karloff’s Monster with the little girl or Lenny Small. That never happens, of course, but I get nervous all the same.
But the baby seemed to like me. Indeed, she typically seems very happy in the pictures I have seen of her, and she lived up to that today. She smiled a lot, listened patiently to the enormous hairy stranger, and even seemed to pay attention when I read her a Middle English poem written to a long-ago woman with the same name — there will be time later for her to understand the words, but I’ve always liked the poem.
Allison and her mother have gone on their way for their daily errands, and I have my work today as well, with papers to grade for my summer course. It’s a little hard to get motivated to do that, as tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the murders, and the week weighs on me. Still, I can appreciate a moment of beauty when I see it, and I’m grateful to my student for swinging by and letting a large, awkward, middle-aged man hold someone as lovely as her daughter. Those moments help me remember to try to be gentle.