As I chatted with the woman working on her laptop in the café, we ended up sharing notes about our respective toddlers’ childcare. She told me the Big Daycare (the one I had failed to get Raihana into) had become a Big Warehouse, and I told her the Little Guy across the street was a great choice for me. My baby is 21 months, I said. Mine is 18 months, she said.
It was one of those moments. I was suddenly struck by the relative insignificance of the age 18 months, and the Other Child, in my own personal world. I only cared to know about her toddler because she was a toddler, and I had a toddler. I didn’t REALLY care if her toddler was a good sleeper or a good eater, and if she enjoyed the outdoors, and if she was happy at her daycare. I CARED in a certain sense, but not in the sense that I could spend hours of the night worrying about her, praying that she would be okay and happy.
This is something that often devastates me – the pull to self-and-one’s-own-child that parenthood seems to effect. In another sense, it creates a bond with other parents, so that you can weep for children you have never met. You can empathize deeply with the pain of a parent who hurries past you in the supermarket. But you occupy your own world.
As we returned to our respective tables, to work at our separate laptops, I was shaken by a sense of the entirely remote worlds that we occupy. Sitting here, in the same country, the same state, the same town, the same cozy café, we are immersed in faraway worlds. We trade information about each other’s worlds, but we don’t emerge from our own worlds. In an essential sense, we only “care” in a very relative sense.
We human beings are insulated worlds, and yet we live in the same one. We are egos revolving around the cosmos that is inside us. We are unable – except in spiritual moments of grace and/or effort – to transcend that internal cosmos, and to explore the multitudinous cosmos without. We – most of us – are unable to care about the needs, the wants, the desires, the sorrows, the deepest traumas of others. My slightest toothache is of greater import to me than is the root canal you experience. My hour of loneliness is more traumatic to me than is the dislocation of a victim of natural disaster.
As I looked outside the window, at the beautiful, gray, placid small town, with its small businesses and its little centers of activity, I was simultaneously struck by the fascination and the potential those little centers hold. If I can break the cocoon within, I might be able to explore those other little cosmoses that revolve around me.
Only one of the miracles of human life in this world is the way we little self-absorbed cosmoses ARE able to live with each other in peace, and even in connection, so often. And another miracle is those souls who ARE able to transcend their own needs, wants and tiny worlds, and replace them with another’s.
“And they give preference to others over their selves, even though poverty was their own lot. And those saved from he covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones that achieve prosperity” (Al-Hashr:9).