Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Earth, Air, Fire, and Water

It doesn’t get much more basic and primeval than those four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. So last night, when we were sitting by the pool with friends and their baby, smelling the green earthy smell of the garden, watching the smoke curl up into the night sky, warming our feet by the fire pit, and listening to the quiet gurgle of the water, it made me feel such a connection to eons past.

Think about it: for thousands of years, people have survived, and taught their children to survive, with those simple elements. They planted crops in the earth, dug wells to water their gardens, their livestock, and themselves, gazed up at the bright daytime and the dim night sky, and warmed themselves, cooked their food, and staved off marauding animals with fire. How many mothers, like I did last night, have cuddled their children by the warmth of a fire? How many have pointed out the stars in the dark sky to their little ones? How many have cooked dinner over a fire and then offered bits to a baby just learning to eat solid food? How many have splashed their little one’s feet in the water and laughed along with the baby’s delighted laughter?

Being a mother has given me such a sense of connection to the past. Whenever I struggle and whenever I find delight in taking care of my baby, I wonder about all the other mothers over the course of time who must have felt the same way. Mothers living in log cabins on the American frontier must have sighed with exhaustion and relief when their babies finally took a nap and they could do chores unencumbered for an hour or two. Mothers in the Dark Ages must have felt a pang of fear at hearing a baby cough in the middle of the night. Mothers in ancient Israel must have delighted in seeing their babies crawl for the first time. Mothers in prehistoric times must have looked in awe at their sleeping babies and carefully counted each finger and toe. Those feelings are so deep-seated and primal that I’m sure that mothers have been feeling them ever since there have been mothers. I’m sure Eve herself slept lightly, listening to Cain and Abel’s nighttime breathing.

This weekend, when we take Ryan camping in New Hampshire, I know I’ll feel an even stronger connection to mothers of the past. Mothers who never had a solid roof over their heads. Mothers who never had refrigeration for baby bottles or microwaves for baby food. Mothers whose only source of heat was a fire of burning logs. Mothers who tramped through the woods carrying their babies every day as a matter of course.

I’m just glad that I won’t be having any direct experiences to share with all the mothers who never had the convenience of modern diapers, or baby wipes, or pre-packaged baby food, or even portable cribs. I love connecting with the past, but I do have my limits!

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