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Shawn Vestal: In this dark night of a year, newborn children arrive like a sunrise

Shawn Vestal  (DAN PELLE)

The picture came from Colorado, a place I will not be visiting this year. It showed me two people – and by extension, many others around them – I will not see this Christmas, though I would love to. And it reminded me, as we close the books on this year of darkness and detachment, of one of the purest joys any of us ever experiences: holding a newborn child.

In this pandemic year, there’s been such a steep deficit of human contact. Such a drop-off in visiting, traveling, partying, celebrating. So much less baby-holding. This detachment and isolation has been lousy, and that’s if we’re lucky enough for it to have been only lousy.

Into this long winter night comes a child, the brightest sunrise of the human experience. Even in this e-card version of the event – the distant, digital copy of the real thing – she arrived like a gift.

I can’t hold the sweet kid in that photo, little Ella Mae, just yet, but the day will come when I can.

There have been a lot of children in my digital life lately. I have felt each arrival as particularly bright gifts. Just a couple of days before the picture I mentioned above, a friend texted me photos of his beautiful baby boy, whom I’ve actually seen in person, though from a distance. We ooohed and aaahed over it in my house, from across town. Not perfect, but good.

Another friend shared a sonogram image – he and his wife’s third child, on the way. Not long after came the photos of a newborn born to a colleague here at the paper, which was not all that long after a different colleague at the paper had welcomed his own child. And those are just the ones most closely tied to me.

Babies everywhere! The world turns!

On the holiday that commemorates the birth of one very important child, in a year when the reasons for celebration have been so wrenchingly few, it’s invigorating to think of all these new arrivals to the human experience. To think of all that lays ahead of them, and by how far that will exceed all that lays ahead of those of us who are already here. To accept the crucial, periodic recognition that we, and these times, and these seemingly urgent moments of soaring importance, will simply pass – are simply passing, right now – into the hands of these children and the promise they bring.

They plant something in our lives, these children, and it grows. This is surely true of our own children, but I’m thinking more of the children of those around us. Children in our families, the children of our friends. The children you see at company events every year, always one year older. The kids growing up and going to school with our own kids. The kids on all the Christmas cards, a year older than the last.

The children you knew before they could hold their own heads up – now going to proms, to colleges, to work like boring adults.

The children who are now having their own children, for heaven’s sake.

It’s like a “Lion King” song or something.

That baby I mentioned at the top of the column – she’s the daughter of my nephew, Ben, who I met when he was in diapers. He’s the son of my brother, Mike, who showed up on this planet when I was not yet 2 years old.

He was always there, my brother. I don’t know what a life without Mike in it would even be. And then his kids were there. And now their kids are – or the first of them, anyway. And my other brothers and sisters, the ones whose arrivals I actually recall, their kids came into the world and grew up and went out and started living their own lives, too – of course, obviously – and before we know it their kids will be coming, too.

It’s just gonna be kids and kids and more kids, all the way out. The regular old miracle, routine as the sunrise and every bit as awe-inspiring.

And they will come into this world – into these moments that feel, despite all we know, like the single, most urgent moments in history – and by their very presence put the lie to our feeling that there is nothing redeemable in our current disasters, that we are on a brink, under the wheels, at an end.

Each of them a future, swaddled in hope.

That’s what’s merry about Christmas, this year, for me. These kids and what they mean. These kids and their chance to make this a better world.

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