by Branigan Grace
Teresa held her infant son close as firelight spilled and flickered golden light over his tiny brow. If only I could shelter you from all the trials of this battle-scarred earth, my love, keep you forever small and safe, she thought, swallowing the bitter taste of fear. She pulled her old blue shawl snug around him, cocooning her struggling, restless baby.
Doubt seized her heart. Mother Mary, she thought, what have we done? Teresa searched his features, his eyes squeezing shut the world, the soft wisp of hair, the minute clenched fists. Her son’s grip strengthened around her finger; his eyes opened then, dense-brown and determined. As he locked her gaze with his own, his brow puckered and he let out a sharp cry, writhing and straining beneath the shawl, impatient with his infant body.
“You want to be a man already, yes?” she said, sensing even now the conflicts they would have. Give me strength, my God, she prayed.
She had wrestled with and triumphed over many spiritual dilemmas before, during the life that she had loved, when all had called her Mother, but never with her own flesh and blood. This whole business of marriage, of family, was more consuming than she had imagined. Abraham was experienced in this area, but all of it was new to Teresa after her celibate existence; too often she felt awkward, as though she were parading around in borrowed clothing that didn’t suit her. What if it’s all been for nothing, she wondered, a heart-breaking mistake?
Hearing the rattle of keys at the door, Teresa stood up to welcome Abraham. He came to her with his kind smile, a piece of his hair askew as usual, and kissed her on the cheek. He was a good man, she reflected, not too difficult to live with, and was a wonderful father to this little one.
“How is my family today?” Abraham asked. He stooped to pick up several papers that had slipped from his briefcase.
“We are better today,” Teresa said. “We had a walk in the hills, and I sang to him. He fussed only a bit this morning.”
“But?” Abraham studied her closely. “Come, my dear. I can see something is troubling you.”
Teresa didn’t always appreciate Abraham’s ability to sense her feelings. She missed her solitude, her privacy in prayer. “It’s nothing,” she said.
Abraham waited a moment, then put a gentle hand on her hair. “We must get used to speaking whatever is on our minds, Teresa. He will need to see that honesty in us, to show him how to live with others.”
“All right, then.” Teresa stood and laid their child, now sleeping, carefully into his cradle, then turned to face Abraham. “I’m beginning to think that we were mistaken to try such a thing as this. What if it all happens again? What if it’s worse this time?”
Abraham nodded. “We knew that there would be that possibility. But, Teresa, if not for us, he would be raised by others. We must attempt it.” He turned from her and began pacing, as he always did when he was excited by his own ideas. “To have this opportunity to put my research to practice in such an important way... to be able to live out my ideas with such a challenging subject... I believe in this, Teresa. We must give him this chance.”
“But others did try, Abraham,” Teresa said, with a troubled glance at the cradle. “What if it’s still not enough?”
“The others who tried, they may have taken care of his food and shelter, but not his spirit. Just think of the growth, the nurturing you can give! With your work among children in Calcutta and my research... we can do this, Teresa. Besides, look at him. A baby... who cannot love a child?”
“I do love him, God help me. But... his soul, Abraham...”
“That can be altered. We are starting again... he will have the best possible parenting this time.”
Teresa took his hand, knowing the truth of what he said. She and Abraham were the chosen ones for this holy purpose and had even been given memories — intact — of their previous existences. Abraham had been much admired for his life’s work, Maslow’s hierarchy, his sensible analysis of what it would take for humans to be self-actualized — to be creatures of not only ability but joy as well. And as for herself, a revered nun, a saint, some said... could she really be a mother to such a one as this little boy?
Such neediness, such intensity!
Teresa knew it was an honor to be chosen as a mother; still, she couldn’t help but long for the serenity of what she had imagined the afterlife to be. The Heaven she had pictured as peaceful eternity was but a dream, a child’s fairy tale. She would never have believed before, in her old life, that there was yet more work to be done after one’s death, that all the lessons of one’s life needed to be applied to the next to help souls that were lost to God.
How could she have known that it would be the duty of those more spiritually advanced to raise up the souls that were wayward, evil, yes, until they were transformed by love? That they would all need to return again and again, life after weary life, until the world learned?
Preposterous. These ideas had certainly not been a part of her teachings. But there it was in front of her, and Teresa had never been one to shirk her duty.
She sighed. “You are right, Abraham. We will finish what we have begun.”
The little one stirred, whimpering. Abraham tenderly took the small bundle from the cradle. “Yes,” he said. “We will keep trying until it works.” He raised the baby until he was face to face with his small son, looking for a moment into the infant’s troubled eyes. Abraham cradled him, holding the boy close to his chest. “Let us try again, shall we, Adolf?”
Copyright © 2007 by Branigan Grace