I am literally staring at a mountain of laundry. Our lovely family (of five) visiting from Detroit just cleared out yesterday, and I am now officially riding the laundry train, sorting an array of sheets, pillowcases, towels and blankets. The soft hum of the dryer is my soundtrack as I write, a gentle reminder of why I’m writing this book in the first place. I have a pile of laundry because our house was filled with our family; the dryer has been spinning all day because we just spent a week weaving new memories.
We filled a table for nine yesterday afternoon, and at one end my husband and I sat next to the youngest in our group - ten-year old Zain, my husband’s nephew’s son. Zain was born 23 weeks premature, so small his arm fit inside his dad’s wedding ring. With room to spare. He is small and lean, with glasses and dark hair, and mannerisms that make you think he’s really an older man trapped in a wee body. He likes to lay one hand on my husband’s shoulder and, while nodding his head enthusiastically, say things like, “You’re a complicated, complex man,” or “You’re a good guy.” He and my husband have their own special bond, and I suspect Zain might understand the core of who my husband is better than anyone.
My husband is 62, and likes to joke around with Zain about what an old man he is. While we were waiting for our lunch to arrive yesterday, Zain started talking about how my husband was only going to continue to grow older as he and his family continued to visit. He kept saying, “You’re going to get older and older and….” not wanting to finish the thought, which would have inevitably ended with the words “...and die.” My husband finished the sentence for him, saying matter-of-factly, “Happens to the best of us!” “Oh man,” Zain replied, “That’s just wrong!”
The tone of the entire exchange was lighthearted, but it was all I could do not to burst into tears. Little Zain, once again, set his sights on one of the most fundamental truths of that moment - that it was one of a finite number of moments we would all have - with my husband, with each other, in this life. The conversation wasn’t sad, and it didn’t have an air of sorrow to it; the sudden well of emotion that came up for me was more about the profound awe I had for this little boy. He got it, and was willing to call it out, giving us all a potent reminder of how blessed we were in that exact moment.
Later that night, my husband and I posited the idea that perhaps Zain’s entry into this world, which was physically and precariously on the outermost edge of what a newly-formed human could survive, gave him the gift of a tighter connection with his spirit and soul. Anyone who saw him during the first few months of his life, when he was hooked up to tubes and hoses and bandages, would have thought, “Poor Zain,” but maybe that pity is misplaced. Perhaps the time he spent hovering right on the border between life and death enabled him to absorb the energy of things like love and light and beauty more easily. I wouldn’t be surprised. He sees what most of us do not see. He encourages us to pay attention.