The baby shower is swarming with children. I am one of only two women here without babies. I’m attempting to small-talk with a mother but somehow we’ve landed on the not-small topic of climate change. I’m afraid of raising a child in a world that may not have birdsong or clean water or bees, I say.
Having a child is the most selfish thing anyone can do, she tells me, and I can’t tell if it’s a warning or a suggestion. Her baby clings to her chest like a barnacle against a cliff and looks at me with yawning-open eyes.
Last night, my friend told me about time as a medium in art. She told me about dance and film and performances that only last until they are over and I thought about the man in New York who used the small opening of his clenched fist to pour bright sand onto the dirty streets of Union Square in the shape of intricate mandala designs, and how some people, hovering over their phones or in a huddle of distraction, would step right through that labor of beauty and leave streaks of ruin behind them. But that was the point. It wasn’t going to last forever and nobody pretended it would.
I meet another mother whose toddler seizes my hand before I can introduce myself to either of them. The child wears gloves and I ask the mother if she is protecting her daughter from dirt, but she explains that the child has a rare condition in which she doesn’t recover from wounds and her organs, any moment, could collapse. Nobody thought she would live this long, she says, nobody thought she would be able to walk. She starts to say the words you’re supposed to say when you have started to cry to someone you don’t know at a morning brunch, and then she stops herself. It’s not okay, she says.
It doesn’t have to be, I respond.
I still don’t know if I want to have a baby. If the world is ending, maybe I shouldn’t have a child; if the world is ending, maybe all I should do is have children. But a baby is also a medium of time and this is what scares me. We watch the toddler waddle up to the table of pastries and bagels and point her gloved, curious fingers at them, as an astronomer gesturing to planets spread across the sky. How do you love something that has organs that can collapse any minute? How do you not?
When the toddler gripped my hand, I don’t think she knew where she wanted to go, if she wanted to look at the pomegranate tree’s cracked fruit, the crumpled mysteries of the garbage can, or the babies swathed like prized fruit wrapped in handkerchiefs. But maybe she understands more than any of us. If time is a medium, why not shape it, why not sculpt it, why not hold the hand of a stranger and go for a walk? Maybe it’s the most selfless thing you can do, I say to the woman who feels guilty about having her baby. But maybe it’s not about the self at all.
I remember the sand painting in New York. The man on his knees, there all day, fingers heavy with grit and then emptying, back bent as if in the position of prayer, the circle of what he was creating getting larger and larger, and then all of a sudden, unexpectedly, the sky crashing with rain. All that beauty, gone. All that beauty, forever.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Judit Klein