I remember the first time 'I' held a baby.
By then several babies had rested in my arms, but the first time 'I' held a baby was quite different. There was a time when all gay men were considered to be a danger to children. In that time I was not, 'I' or even 'I' identified. I was 'Dave who kept secrets' and 'Dave who wanted approval' and, even, 'Dave who was ashamed of the truth.' So when I held children then, I had earned trust by pretense. I had misled people who I knew, and I turned out to be right, would never let me, the real me, into their lives if they had actually known me.
Like many gay men of my age, I became terrified of being around children. I knew that children were in no danger in my care, but the world didn't. The media, the churches, the police always seemed to be banging on about 'molesters' and 'they recruit because they can't reproduce'. So, I stayed far away. I must have appeared cold to parents who encouraged me knowing, or not knowing, to interact with their children. I didn't. I wouldn't. Pity was, I enjoy the company of children - I enjoy listening to what they have to say. But I ensured that I was never alone, never in a position where someone could say something vicious and destroy my life. I hated people a lot back then. I hated them for lying about who I was, who other's like me were. I hated them because I knew, they knew, they were lying. And they didn't care. Their lies gave them power.
But then .. I went to visit a friend who had adopted an infant girl with Down Syndrome. She brought her home from the hospital. I visited her only a day or two after the wee one had come home. I sat in her living room and watched her bring the child out. She cradled her as she spoke to me about what this meant to her. About the life she was choosing to undertake, about the road that she had willingly placed her feet on. She asked me to hold the baby. I got nervous. She knew who I was. She knew the life I led. This was an offer that told me that she trusted me, that she knew the 'truth' was a 'lie' ... and that her little girl would be safe in my arms.
So, I held her.
'I' held her.
And I looked down into her eyes and I knew, just knew, at that moment that this little girl, the one in my arms, had a long and difficult road ahead of her. She was born into a time of institutions and segregated schools. Shew as born into a time where others predicted hers would be a meaningless life. Others predicted that every step would be a struggle, every attempt would end in failure, every joy would turn to ash. And I knew, just knew, that in that baby rested something powerful. I held potential. I held words that would one day be spoken. I knew I held dreams that would one day come true, I knew I held a girl who's heart - like mine - was different, but who had a heart - like mine, that worked.
She was held by me.
And I knew that she could feel my fears for her. I knew that she could feel, somewhere inside of me, a knowledge that she would like me be teased, mocked, bullied. I knew that she could feel, the the pace of my heart, the worry that she will have others predict, wrongly, what life would be - my life, my life of love and purpose and value - was not supposed to have been - they said people like me didn't love, or didn't have relationships, or didn't live lives of meaning -she knew I knew that they'd say the same of her. I knew that should could fee my fears and worries. But I also wanted her to feel, in the warmth of our contact, strength. I wanted her to feel my belief in her, and in her capacity to grow, and in her determination to be all that she is and can be. I wanted her to feel, in the first time that she, an outsider, was held by me, an outsider, that there was hope and love and community.
I held a baby.
I remember the first time I held a baby.
By then I'd held many.
But the first time I held a baby after becoming a wheelchair user. After becoming attached to wheels. She was placed in my arms and I was told that her name was Ruby. She woke, only briefly as she switched from mother's arms to mine. Her eyes met mine. Baby's eyes are unworldly eyes - they looked at me, and saw me. She slept a bit and then when she woke, and her eyes were caught by something. I followed what she was looking at and I saw that she was watching the light as it played and danced and sparkled as it hit the chrome of my wheelchair. She giggled.
And I knew. I knew that she would grow up to understand difference, and enjoy it. I knew as I felt her in my arms that I was no longer an 'outsider'. That this little girl would grow to know me, all of me. Me without the masks, me without the need for pretence, me. She would see the wheelchair and the weight and the heart that loved differently and she would know, somehow deep in her soul, that I had held her, and that she was safe. Safe then, safe now, and that my love would always be a refuge for her.
I remember the first time I held a baby.
When I was a boy, I attended Sunday School in a small United Church. The school was held in the basement and one Christmas they set up a Nativity display for all of us. My Sunday school teacher was standing talking to one of the parents with the baby Jesus tucked up under her arm. He looked uncomfortable. She called to me and asked me to place the baby in the manger. I took him and carried him with exaggerated care. I didn't want to be responsible for breaking Jesus. As I laid him in the manger I wondered to myself, 'Is this what it's all about?'
It wouldn't be for nearly 60 years before I could answer that question with certainty.