My granddaughter S is soon to be nine years old. I remember the day her parents brought her home from the hospital. She was squalling at the top of her lungs as my son handed her to me. I took her in my arms and held her to my heart. She quieted immediately. That was the beginning of our special bond.
A few years later S was snuggled next to me on the sofa. Her new little brother J was on my lap. We were watching Dumbo for maybe the fourth time and had just gotten to the part where the circus elephants make a circle to keep Dumbo out when suddenly S knelt and put a hand on either side of my face. “Memeré,” she said, “we need to talk about something.”
I looked into her earnest little face. “What do we need to talk about?” I asked her.
“Love,” she said. “It’s like this. When you love somebody, just because someone else comes over to play and you play with them, it doesn’t mean you don’t love the other person as much, right?”
I wondered what had brought this on. “I think I know what you mean,” I told her. “Last time I was visiting, your cousin came here and you went off to play with her. It didn’t mean you loved me any less.”
“Yes,” agreed S, “and just because J is sitting on your lap, it doesn’t mean you don’t love me, right?”
Ah, so that was it. “S,” I told her, “when you were born, I got to pick you up. I could feel your little heart beating against mine and I fell in love with you right then. I will never, ever fall out of love with you.”
“Did you feel J's little heart beating when he was born and fall in love with him, too?” she asked.
“I did,” I told her, “but that doesn’t mean I love you less. My heart is big enough for both of you, and for lots of other people, too.”
She snuggled back down beside me. “Good,” she said.
Later that evening, when S and I were holding hands while we drifted off to sleep, I thought about love in all its various forms. We’re born with a need to be loved and the capacity to love in return. All our lives we need to be surrounded by love, and if it isn’t there, something in us turns up missing. Because love is so vast a concept, it’s hard to pin one definition on it. It is always greater than the sum of its parts, is more than the respect, the trust, the caring, the delight, and the tenderness that go into it. And here was this tiny morsel of humanity, holding my hand and worrying about how much she was loved, how love could be divided and not be less than whole, and how she could share the affection of those she loved and not come up wanting.
The next morning she told her mother, “You know what, Mommy? Memeré picked me up when I was born and she felt my heart beating on hers and BAM! That’s when it happened. We fell in love!”
Her mother looked at me and smiled. “I’m glad, S.”
“Me, too,” said S and she grinned up at me.
And that’s the way love should be – we should all hold our hearts against someone else’s and BAM! Think how big our hearts would be then.