So now I’m a grandpa. Which is odd, considering how inside I continue to feel like an adolescent. But it does make for some interesting experiences.
I’m babysitting Wyatt, who’s five months old. He’s in his ExerSaucer, wobbling back, forth and sideways, drooling and gurgling at the brightly colored plastic sea creatures hanging around him.
I’m only half paying attention. As usual, I’m lost in my own thoughts.
Then I notice he’s silent.
I look over and find him staring at me.
I stare back. The moment lengthens. He holds eye contact. Doesn’t move. Doesn’t blink. Doesn’t get bored or embarrassed or nervous, as an adult would. Just stares. Smiling at me.
I smile too, but he’s making me nervous. This moment of raw contact feels uncanny, like something beyond normal human experience. I feel an urge to end it, to look away, or joke, or take a picture with my cell phone, or create some other distraction.
Instead I stare back.
And the thought comes, It’s like looking at God.
Years ago a client surprised me by abruptly asking “What’s a therapist’s job?” A simple question, the sort that catches you flatfooted. I felt really stupid. I had to think.
Eventually I told her that I saw my job as similar to Michelangelo’s. Michelangelo is supposed to have said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside of it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
“By the time we’re adults,” I said, “we’re all crusted over with fears and defenses. The therapist’s job is to scrape away the fears and defenses and free the person trapped inside.”
The person inside. The natural, unafraid, undefended part. The God part.
Sunday school taught me to think of God as resembling Charlton Heston in a bathrobe. That was a long time ago. Lately I’ve come to think of God as something more like The Force in Star Wars — a sort of energy which animates and organizes things, makes spring grass sprout and wounds heal and babies grow, holds things together and makes sense of life’s pain, loss and chaos.
And when it comes to people, I think of God as the part of them that gets buried in the course of getting educated and socialized. The part therapy tries to unearth. The spontaneous, curious, fearless, loving part we all carry around inside us. The God part.
The part that’s staring at me now.