Rock-a-bye baby on the tree-top,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle, and all.
They came to visit again this evening, that motley bunch of children. We ate supper together–pizza from their daddy’s pizzeria. (What a childhood! No once-in-a-blue-moon pizza for them!) It is a time-honored tradition by now, one which we protect jealously. But, something is missing tonight.
He always comes too, their Mom’s younger brother. They adore him and he pretends not to notice–not even to care. But, all you have to do is wait until they are gathered around him, playing a game, and you may notice that his hand rests on the head of the littlest girl, or that he smiles a little more as he helps them. I say that he always comes, but he is not here tonight. His work has taken him away for a week to the bright lights of that city where things that happen there, stay there. They miss him. I miss him.
One by one, the children ask to be excused. One, the next to the oldest, asks if he can turn on the CD player in the living room. Not sure that the six year old is yet capable of managing the technical operation himself, I start to push away from the table, but he matter-of-factly suggests, “All I have to do is push the button marked “single”, right?” When did he learn to read? Something begins to nag at my brain at about the same time as the peppy children’s music begins to blast away.
Dinner over and games put away, the children take a final twirl around the living room, dancing to the music, and–they are gone. Silence falls. I suddenly realize that I didn’t want them to leave, either them or their Mom. It is not always so. There are evenings when I can’t hurry them out the door quickly enough. The noise and hubbub, along with the occasional scuffle and stray whine, overwhelm this aging man. Not tonight. That something nagging at my brain is beginning to grow clearer.
Suddenly it came to me. I realized that they are growing up too quickly. And, just as suddenly, I remembered how fast their mother and uncle grew up before them. A blink of the eye, a snap of the fingers, and they were gone. Oh, not gone from my life, but gone certainly from the familiarity that living under the same roof engenders. Gone from the dependence on us for their necessities. Gone from the need to wake them in the morning, to remind them of responsibilities, to clothe and feed them. I was never an absentee father, but still, I don’t remember where the time went.
I pushed the thoughts down deep and headed out the door myself to take a bicycle ride. But, for some reason, the entire hour I rode, I heard a little piping voice singing in my head. The voice was singing the words (almost) of the song you saw above as you first began reading. My thoughts carried me back over the years, and I saw the cute little two year old blondie, unable to pronounce the words, but still singing at the top of her lungs. “Rock-a-bye baby, In tee-top, Wind-a-blownin’, cadle ‘ock, Bough bake, cadle faw, Down come baby, cadle, an’ gall.” Just as in my head tonight, back then it was repeated ad infinitum with no variation by the little diva.
My mind shifted gears at about the same time as I shifted the bicycle’s down to come to a stop. The original meaning of the old children’s rhyme is lost in the mists of the centuries, but I have always seen that treetop as a place of safety, of ease, where children are laid for protection and comfort. Up above the reach of savage beasts, with the wind gently rocking the cradle, the baby sleeps and knows no want. The picture is a serene one and we relax, knowing that our children are safe. Or are they?
Suddenly, and without warning, the gentle breeze turns into a gale, the cradle swaying and tilting crazily. The place of safety has become a place of terror, for the parents down below at least. Perhaps the child, high above the world, feels the exhilaration of an amusement park ride and, having no understanding of danger, lets out a whoop of joy. The parents begin to see the peril of their assumption that the treetop is a safe place. But, before they can make even an effort to bring the child down, the branch cracks under the stress, spilling the precious contents of the suspended cradle into the air, the child they wanted only to protect falling into oblivion.
I will admit that I don’t understand the brain that conceives of such a rhyme as a children’s song. What a terrible thing! But, it is, after all, only a bit of doggerel, reminding us that there may be other ways to do things. And, we do them differently, don’t we?
Our children are not placed in inaccessible places, to grow up high above the world, but they are raised in the very same world in which we walk and live–a world where dangers exist, but where help is close by at all times. We walk with them, holding their hands to cross the street, tucking them into warm beds at night. We teach them to navigate the stormy seas of life, explaining the dangers, as well as the incredible joys that are to be found. True, the ride is a bit bumpier, the road much rougher than the gently swaying boughs of isolation and protection, but the child learns, growing and maturing into a young adult who is fitted and ready to face the same world in which they grew up.
Which is safer? I’m confident that no answer is necessary.
But, there is another application which speaks to me tonight. I wonder if we really have learned the larger lesson of the children’s song. Seeking distance from the noise and danger of the world we live in, we isolate ourselves from its unpleasantness, choosing instead the safety of our own treetops. From here, we can look down on what happens below and say, “Not my problem. I’m safe.” We hide in our work, in our castle-like home, in the fortress we call a church, thinking that in separation we’ll find safety. I have to wonder how that is working out for us. Isolation only alienates us from the help, the fellowship, which we desperately need, guaranteeing that there is more danger in the world, not less.
How about it? I think I feel a gale coming up. It might be a good time to look for a better place to sleep.
All this talk of rocking cradles is reminding me that sleep, though a great waste of time, is necessary even for me. I believe that I’ll find a place of rest soon.
Sweet dreams, fellow travelers!
“For you will go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”
(Helen Keller~blind & deaf American author~1880-1968)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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