I knelt down beside his bed, draped my torso over him and cradled my head with my hand, elbow resting over the opposite side of him. The clock’s yellow glow lined us in soft light and shot shadows crawling up the wall. Behind us the whir of a sleep-creating sound machine and swoosh of the ceiling fan filled the room with a gentle night-song. The melody of sleep and dreams and comfort.
We prayed. Our simple prayer of every night. Praying thanks, simple needs and protection.
“You want me to listen to your heart?” A ritual begun the previous night.
I leaned in and his two-year-old arms grabbed my head and steered it towards his chest. A strong grip. Surprising for a little boy. He pressed my ear in deep and I could feel his little chin and soft cheek against my forehead. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Small and quick in perfect rhythm.
“I hear it buddy…”
“You wanna hear Daddy’s heart?”
I cupped his head up to my chest and pulled him in to listen.
“Hear it? It says Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump…”
A slow, “Yeah…”
Then quiet. Pensive. He lay back down on his back. Blue-blanket-warmed, eyes glancing around the ceiling, trying to find somewhere to land his thoughts. The room grew heavy. A presence had arrived. A deep presence. Not evil, not safe. But good. It moved calmly. I felt it. Elijah felt it. He turned serious.
Then his eyes rimmed wet. Swimming deep with thought. His face became older. Not a two year old’s anymore. Our souls were the same age.
“Yeah,” turning higher-pitched, “Mommy.”
“Daddy’s here, Bub. What’s the matter?” I knew.
“Scared, Mommy…” He had felt it. I had felt it. The depth. The awakening. The Deep Sadness of life. The finite. I leaned in and listened to his heart again. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Measured heart beats. Numbered heart beats. So few heartbeats behind, so many ahead. But numbered. I pulled him in to listen again to mine. Deeper. Slower. Heavier. So many more in my past. Another numbered future. A number known by One. I knew that. He was knowing that. Learning that and feeling it too. Right now. It sank with calculated weight.
“Daddy’s here, Elijah.” I moved in closer, put my hand over his rhythmic chest.
“Elijah, you have a good heart. It’s little, Daddy’s is big. But Elijah’s is growing.”
“Growing big and tall and strong?”
“Yeah, big and tall and strong. Like Daddy’s. You have a good heart. Inside of you.” Pointing to his chest. He thought again. Joy was filling his veins again. Bringing life. Pulling the heaviness out of his eyes. They looked right at me. He wasn’t my son. He was a child of another Father. He looked at me as a contemporary. The Great Hope was surrounding him like a fragrance. The Deep Sadness was morphing.
“Big and tall and strong,” he said. Not a question. A declaration.
I pushed back the little tuft of blonde hair from his forehead and kissed his door-jamb infused scar of last summer. A scar of stitches and crying, and a betrayal of life and everything immortal. I knew he was feeling an earthborn weight but was being beckoned by eternity already inscribed on his heart. It was overwhelming.
I held the kiss on his head long. I wanted to be the Hope. I wasn’t the Hope. I was a messenger. A transcriber.
“I love you Elijah.”
He was still looking right at me. I could see my outline of yellow glow in his eyes. They danced again. “I love you too Daddy.” Joy encircling. Warming us both.
I pulled myself up, finished goodnights, and closed the door holding onto the handle for a thoughtful minute. Our normal two-year-old jumps, bops, plays, jabbers and sings for half an hour at bedtime. Tonight was different. The room was silent, filled with thought. A heartbeat had introduced the Deep Sadness but a Love had ushered in the Great Hope. Fear cast aside by perfect love.
I received this gift. I gave thanks.
And I will remember.