We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik
in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly eating and talking.
Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, "Hi there." He pounded his
fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes were crinkled in
laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin, as he wriggled
and giggled with merriment.
I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man
whose pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked
out of his would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was
uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a
beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map. We were
too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled. His hands
waved and flapped on loose wrists.
"Hi there, baby; Hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster," the man said to
Erik. My husband and I exchanged looks, "What do we do?" Erik continued
to laugh and answer, "Hi, hi there."
Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man.
The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. Our meal
came and the man began shouting from across the room, "Do ya patty cake?
Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo."
Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk. My husband
and I were embarrassed. We ate in silence; all except for Erik, who was
running through his repertoire for the admiring skid row bum, who in turn,
reciprocated with his cute comments.
We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went
to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot. The old man
sat poised between me and the door. "Lord, just let me out of here before
he speaks to me or Erik," I prayed.
As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back trying to sidestep him and
avoid any air he might be breathing. As I did, Erik leaned over my arm,
reaching with both arms in a baby's "pick-me-up" position.
Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the
man's. Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated
their love relationship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission
laid his tiny head upon the man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed,
and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime,
pain, and hard labor, cradled my baby's bottom and stroked his back. No
two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time. I stood awestruck.
The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and
set squarely on mine.
He said in a firm commanding voice, "You take care of this baby."
Somehow I managed, "I will," from a throat that contained a stone. He pried
Erik from his chest unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain. I
received my baby, and the man said, "God bless you, ma'am, you've given me
my Christmas gift." I said nothing more than a muttered thanks. With Erik
in my arms, I ran for the car. My husband was wondering why I was crying
and holding Erik so tightly, and why I was saying, "My God, my God, forgive me."
I had just witnessed Christ's love shown through the innocence of a tiny
child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul, and a
mother who saw a suit of clothes. I was a Christian who was blind, holding
a child who was not. I felt it was God asking, "Are you willing to share
your son for a moment?" when He shared His for all eternity. The ragged
old man, unwittingly, had reminded me, "To enter the Kingdom of God, we
must become as little children."