You’ve known George Payne for his wide-ranging subjects and always thoughtful and informative commentary: on Martin Luther King, a photo montage of Rochester, interfaith dialogue, urban poverty, plans to make the Lower Falls Park and Gorge into a World Heritage Site, a critical response to a PBS documentary, on Black Lives Matter, philosophy of teaching philosophy online, legalizing cannabis as an social of social justice, and thoughts on the past, present and future of his alma mater, the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
Today’s is special.
On June 22, 2016, on Wednesday morning at 1:46 am in Rochester’s Highland Hospital, Mendon Joseph Payne came into the world. By all accounts he is a perfect baby.
Writing as a gushingly charmed and improbably wonder filled new dad, I totally concur with this assessment. But if we are honest, there is no such thing as an imperfect baby. As far as I can tell, there are no cute babies or ugly babies; there are no crack babies or healthy babies: there are just babies. They are all perfect, unprecedented, miraculously inspired creations. Essentially that is who we all are as well.
Sadly, along the way, we gradually begin to unlearn our perfection. We become adults and begin to despise imperfections which were simply invented out of thin air. These artificial standards such as height, weight, mobility, strength, head shape, skin tone, birthmarks, penis formation, hearing and vision aptitude, lip and tongue placement, and hundreds of other physical features are recorded and ranked thus robbing us of our gift to be blameless.
I often wonder if all forms of social, personal, and spiritual violence stem from an unwillingness to accept our innate flawlessness. This is certainly a fundamental teaching of many eastern religions. The Buddha showed his disciples that: “We already have perfect compassion, perfect wisdom, perfect joy. We only need to settle our own minds so they can arise from deep within us.” Lao Tzu taught: “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.”
What if we chose to follow these sages? What would happen if we could just peer into the eyes of our enemy and perceive them as the absolutely perfect baby they came into the world as? We could never bring ourselves to seek their destruction.
I am continuing to learn that all violence is rooted in a false belief that there is something wrong with us. That we are not full enough, protected enough, happy enough, angry enough, abused enough, punished enough, loved enough, or worshiped enough. That we are not enough.
Over time we allow ourselves to grow up. We get “older.” We turn into someone else. We become imperfect. Somehow our language is no longer good enough. The way our hair looks is all wrong. The way we sit or stand is not proper. We begin to believe that everything we do could be done by someone else- only better; and through this ceaselessly hostile process of self denial and self criticism, we grow to despise our very existence.
So here I am, only a mere 48 hours into this university of awareness called fatherhood, and what I am witnessing each time I gaze into the mirror of Mendon’s eyes is a picture of my better self. I see my reflection through his reciprocal gaze and it makes me love myself again. All I see is what I need to see. Everything else is incinerated into the infinitude of his dusky cobalt blue pupils. It is redeemed.
Yet true redemption will only come when we can apprehend everyone-not just our own flesh and blood- with this same gaze of unconditional appreciation. To be able to pass by a stranger at the bus stop and see their purity. To feel the same radical acceptance with them as I do when I am swaddling my newborn son. This goal is not inconceivable, just infuriatingly difficult.
During these past 48 hours I have been reminded that people are capable of tremendous acts of selflessness, compassion, integrity, courage, mindfulness, and respect. I have also been reminded that each baby who comes into this world is alight with these virtues without even trying. They are all messengers of God’s faultless sublimity.
If only we all could remember our primal identity! We are those babies! We came into the world as perfect manifestations of God’s transcendence and completion. Each and every one of us came into this world naked but clothed in goodness. We were all soaked in the same amniotic fluids yet glimmering with radiant hope. We cried a little just to tell the world that it is worth crying for.
Our rapture was to breath. Our holiness was to sleep. Our sainthood was to smile. Our divinity was to be.