My seven-month-old son James has the distinction of being a Happy baby. He wakes up happy. You have to turn up the monitor louder than usual, it's so easy to miss his waking up. While my first two sons generally woke up crabby or groggy, James just lies there blowing raspberries while he admires the stitching on his knit blanket. Sometimes he bangs on the bed repeatedly with an open palm, full of enthusiasm, as if to say: "Man, I cannot wait to get going. This is gonna be great." I like to sneak up on him when he's just woken up, just so I can see that serene clarity on his face – unafraid, and full of interest. Then he notices me standing by the bed, and he smiles like I am the best thing that could possibly happen to him today. If I died today, my final thoughts would be of that wake-up moment.
I have a theory on why people like dogs so much. Dogs are consummate optimists. To a dog, everything in the world is interesting: "Man, check out this bush! I mean, just smell it! Did you catch the whiff of . . . and what's that? Wow!" Every day is a good day to a dog. No matter how many times they fail to catch the squirrel, every time the squirrel comes into the yard, they chase it, with full-tilt commitment. As far as they are concerned, today is the day they are gonna catch that sucker. And when you come home at the end of the day, they are always very glad to see you, and make a point of saying so. In short, we keep dogs because we want to be reminded that happiness is possible.
My son James has near dog-like powers of happiness.
He is also remarkably good-looking. There is so little one can say about a human being before their first birthday, other than routine observations of their appearance or their disposition. "He's so cute/adorable/beautiful" usually top the list of comments, but people sense that even those rubrics are insufficient for this particular child. "No, I mean, really, he's really good-looking." Once my wife walked down the street with him, and a stranger abruptly interrupted her cell phone conversation to step forward and say, "Now that . . . is a beautiful baby." Talk about super-powers . . . Superman might be able to leap over tall buildings, but my son can shatter cell-phone bubbles.
This isn't just a proud parent qvelling over his kid. I have a philosophic point. The last year or so I have been lost in the wilderness, philosophically speaking. I have struggled with doubts and fears and reservations. As Rumi put it, I wake up "empty and scared." I have tried to use Reason to nail down the purpose of my life . . . and yet James reminds me every day that Life is not a rational proposition. What we believe, what we know is only a small fraction of how we live, how we hold ourselves as we move into life. Love and joy, the things that give meaning to existence, while always transcend reason.