The great thing about being a youngish grandfather is that you get to be an ancestor without being dead. My father was 36 and my mother 32 when they had their first child (not me). I was just twenty-two when my daughter Sarah was born, so in a sense, I was growing up as she was. Perhaps, she made a better job of it.
I get back from Newfoundland on a Monday, and they come to see me the next day — Sarah, her husband Simon, and young master Thomas. And the cat. We will get to the cat.
I have an odd set of emotions. I seldom know what I feel about a thing just when it happens. The experience has to make its way as through an aquifer, then it pools. This may take hours or months. Sometimes I have to write a poem to know exactly what has happened to me. I am not prolific, so often enough the jury is out for a long, long time.
Not so when I learned about Tommy. Shortly after she told me she was expecting, Sarah gave me an image from her 9-week ultrasound. There he was, like a spaceman, a head and body round, two little hands out to the side and two feet on the tiniest of legs.
It was the first glance I had of someone who would be central to the rest of my life. I was, perhaps, confusing hope and certainty, as the doctors were not yet ready to give the all-clear on whatever they were seeing in this image — they soon did. But I would look at this image every day and be lifted out of a sadness that was ganging up on me — five friends with cancer at the same time, my mother lost to dementia.
When I was 18, I went on a retreat that involved a late night exposition of the sacrament. For non-Catholics, this can be described as a prayer of adoration. A consecrated host is placed in a metal stand called a monstrance and you pray just by looking at it. That night, I saw through the little bit of bread at the centre of the monstrance a kind of openness, and was caught for hours in a sense of the vastness of God.
That ultrasound became a monstrance for me. I would look at this tiny figure and he was himself, a little body, which opened into a sight of far-reaching consolation.
I look at him as he is now. He is three and refers to me with a curious formality as “Grandpapa.” They are delivering Chester to me — a grumpy once-feral cat they adopted and whom I tricked into affection by rubbing the seam of my jeans with catnip. Floor-fixers are coming to their house in Hamilton and everyone, including cats, must clear out. The humans are going to Simon’s father’s house. Chester stays with me.
After a trip to the swings on Lowther Street, I help load Tommy into the car. He gives me a kiss. A creature mostly made of the past, I am looking at the absolute future.