A newborn baby struggling to live is placed on the naked breast of a parent. The warmth of their presence, the strength of their heartbeat, the rise and fall of regulated breath pass life to the vulnerable child. A concentrated mix of human contact and love give strength to survive. We know that children need skin to skin contact to live, to thrive, to grow.
Gracing our digital screens, these powerless infants stir in us a call to nurture, to give, as if somehow we will create a more peaceful and loving world if they make it through childhood. Relying on the strength of our immune system to keep us healthy, we sanitize our skin so they won’t be harmed by us and what we carry when we reach out our un-gloved hands, offering the comfort of our warmth. Perhaps when children are this small we might invite them to be even closer, to be neighbour, to be family. In them we see humanity, the image of God, our own lack of innocence. So, we protect them and chisel out laws that we hope will give them a fighting chance at a healthy and happy adulthood.
Our precautions turn out to not be enough. The vulnerable meet our eyes, with strength in their arms and lines of heartache etched across their faces. They no longer remind us of what is common to us all. For the love of people, we increase the list of human rights, and yet, it is with sterilized gloves we have offered compassion. The vulnerable receiving care from outstretched hands covered with personal protection against contamination.
Our programmes but not our friendship; Our money but not our neighbourhood; Our laws but not our daily kindness; Our pity but not our love.
“God loves me…” she slurred through wrinkled lips, her bloodshot eyes pleading for confirmation. “He loves you very much! But you’ve got to stop drinking so much because it’s not good for you,” Paddy gently assured her as he walked with her outside. She shuffled her petite, aging frame towards the steps. A worn ballet flat came off her foot as she murmured, trying to come to grips with love. In the same moment Paddy dropped to a knee, with one hand he picked up her shoe and with the other, her foot. Without pause, he slid her shoe back onto her foot, speaking gently but firmly about the value of her life. She continued down the stairs and into the street.
For the love, peel off the compassion gloves. As well as our programmes, money and laws, offer friendship. Offer neighbourhood. Offer kindness. For the love … offer love.