One week in February brought news of two deaths and one birth. At my age that’s about par. I’m fast approaching an ominous passage in life: more friends deceased than alive. Both friends who’d died, closing out good lives, were similar in age to me—in their seventies. I’d known them at different times and not seen either for quite some time. Yet knowing I’d never see them again on this sphere left a sad emptiness. A birth does not fill that void but represents the joyous reminder of continuity, one more step forward in the saga of humanity.
Lilja Gene was born February 9, a seven-pound, four-ounce promise for the future. Prior to her birth, her family held a traditional baby shower. Yet her mother, Ashley, was looking for something a little deeper as she prepared for her first child. She gathered a circle of women, some of whom traveled a distance, for a “blessingway” ceremony. Not only was I blessed to be included, I was the oldest.
Based on Navajo tradition, the “blessingway” is gaining popularity among mothers-to-be. In this instance the living room setting was casual, the intent sacred. We prayed, read poems, sang, shed happy tears, and laughed. The women painted an intricate design in henna on Ashley’s rounded belly. Lilja tried to disrupt the artistry with an occasional kick. We each brought three symbolic beads—one for baby, mother, and family. They were strung into a birthing necklace for Ashley to wear during labor. We looped our wrists together with yarn, making bracelets that we wore through the rest of the pregnancy.
Then ancient tradition melded seamlessly with 21st century technology. Niko, Lilja’s dad, texted us all when Ashley’s water broke. “Cut those bracelets!” he typed. Cutting the yarn symbolized a release of blessings for mother and baby. Those prayers of blessing traveled across the miles through the mysterious space of the Spirit. They mingled with texts of encouragement traveling from our smart phones through cyberspace. After many long hours came the joyous text announcing Lilja’s arrival, followed almost daily by photos.
New parents these days are bucking a trend. In 2016 the national fertility rate dropped to its lowest point since record keeping began in 1909. Women are having babies at half the rate of the fecund 1950s. Academics and researchers offer all kinds of theories about this. I have one, too. Parenthood is a calling. People no longer reproduce in order to have enough helping hands around the farm. Couples decide to get pregnant because they feel called to give the world one more unique individual. They are not daunted by the problems my generation is leaving.
As I was writing this on March 5, my computer dinged—a text message with photo of just-born, great-grandson Lucas Cole. Even with 7.6 billion people on earth, there’s room for more. We need new ideas to uphold our ancient values. Isn’t that why newborn babies look so old and so wise?