My husband and I were well into our 60s before we turned into grandparents last summer. Following in the tradition of millions of new grandparents, we flew to Washington, D.C., to spend some time and “help out.”

I arrived with some excellent plans, my computer, a work project, a sheaf of poems to work on, and phone numbers of two friends in the area for some catch-up lunches. There was a new exhibit at the Smithsonian I’d planned to visit for months. After all, we’d be there a week and there were two of us. How much “help” is needed beyond laundry and rocking a fussy grandchild so Mommy can sleep? How much sitting around with a baby can one do?

Quite a lot, it turns out. Something happened when Alexis melted against me and fell asleep; when she bobbleheaded on my shoulder, looking at the world; when she zealously scarfed her bottle of pumped breast milk late at night. It probably won’t surprise other grandparents to hear this — I was overcome, subdued, surrendered. Perhaps this is nature’s or God’s way of making sure we all get to survive.

I forgot the Smithsonian had a new exhibit. I left the folders of work and poems where I’d set them down. I thought of my friends, but somehow trips to Carter’s and Buy-Buy Baby became more compelling than lunch. For hours I sat with Alexis asleep in my arms and read a novel and did Sudoku. I sat with Alexis awake in my lap, talked and listened to nonsense that made perfect sense, got lost in half-focused dark blue eyes. I didn’t care about anything else. I never wasted so much time to so much profit. I was utterly, completely happy.

When I flew home at the end of the week, I felt myself surfacing from this immersion in a world completely different from my usual life. As I emerged to schedules and routines, I understood. Alexis had taught me what my spiritual teachers have been trying to teach me for years — and I’ve been trying to help others learn. It might be more accurate to say she plunged me into how I would like to live and usually don’t manage to. There was no time. There were no demands beyond what our bodies needed, and most of all what she required. Never was it so easy to “do” nothing and to simply be.

Several times a day now I look up and around at the iridescent colors the sun creates with the colored leaves, and I stop inwardly. Take this in, I tell myself, let it permeate. Notice the cat’s breathing when he settles in my lap and keeps me at my morning meditation longer than I’d intended. Really look at the person with whom I’m conversing.

“There is no greater obstacle to God than time,” wrote Meister Eckhart hundreds of years ago. And — surprise — no better teacher of that lesson than my infant Zen master. I need to get back to D.C. for another lesson.


The Rev. Karen Lewis Foley is a member of the Brunswick Unitarian Universalist Church and lives in midcoast Maine. She can be reached at: [email protected]