He crouches down next to the crib in the dim room lit only by nightlight. Slowly he bends forward until his forehead brushes the wooden slats where our son’s head rests, a dark tangle of damp curls.
They blur together in the dark, father to son.
I watch from the doorway. The broadness of his back, the curve of his calves, the grip of his fingers resting on the tops of his knees – all poised to act. I wonder how he can keep so still, all his attention focused like a laser beam on the sleeping boy in the bed.
We both search for some sign of distress, beyond the bandaids that wrap round our baby’s arm where the wasps stung. All the first-aid guides I’d dug out of the bathroom cupboard while he was screaming in my ear just a few hours ago warned that an allergic reaction could still arrive hours after the attack.
We’ve never had a child stung before, so here we are thrown back onto the shores of brand-new-parenthood, sputtering and bewildered at how little we know. Are we supposed to wake him to make sure he’s not swelling up? Would we be able to hear on the baby monitor if he went into shock? Should we have stocked an Epi-pen at the ready for emergencies like a bedtime bee sting? Are we needlessly anxious?
We have no clue.
So he squats, crouched by the crib, staring into darkness, waiting for what seems like an agonizing stretch of time. As minutes drag past, my mind starts to wander. Back to the newspaper lying on the kitchen table downstairs, the latest article on Syria that I’d half read and flung aside in frustration: too much. Back to our loss, still cycling through my mind in regular sad rhythms: too soon.
And I start to wonder, as I keep watching from the doorway, my own breath held, how on earth God holds it all in tension.
How the divine power which set the universe spinning could ever be concerned with my heartache. How the force of love incarnate could let such evil massacre babies with warfare. How all of our wants and wounds could ever be gathered under the gaze of One.
But as I keep staring at the strong back bent low to peek through the slats of the crib, I wonder if I see some glimpse of how God might watch each of us, the wasp-stung and the war-torn. How such love could laser in on smallest needs in weakest hours and embrace all of us, too, even in the violence we never cease to wreak upon each other.
Because the world has always been this big and this small. Heated debates over bombing and nervous jitters over back-to-school. Thousands screaming over blood stains in the city square and two crying behind a hospital room’s closed doors. And somehow we who dare or dream or deign to keep believing, believe there is a God who is Good all the time.
I cannot – will not – ever fathom how this works.
But finally he turns to me, smiling in the shadows. “All clear,” he mouths in a half-whisper. We sneak back out of the room.
And all week, as I keep brooding over Syria and grieving the small moments that still catch in my throat, I carry with me this image of a night watch. How the strongest can bend low to care about the smallest. How a father’s attention can focus in an instant when his child’s face is salt-streaked with tears.
Maybe the divine is never so distant as our fears would spin us to believe. Maybe God is always this close, right on the other side of where we rest, watching each one, holding a whole world in love’s heart.