Victoria's Apologetic

When our first child was six months old, I caught her in a strange act. Victoria was in her walker, lolling near the bookcase. Suddenly she bolted upright, eyes wide, and began babbling at the air. If I hadn't been with her, I would have guessed that a long-lost acquaintance had burst into the room and completely astounded her. She looked in turns absorbed and fanatic, subdued then alarmed, waving her arms and lifting the chin of her hairless little head. She repeated this inexplicable behavior on several occasions.  

It wasn't teething; it wasn't a demand to be picked up. It was something more wonderful, in the literal sense. What could produce this blend of bewilderment and ecstasy, sudden fear followed by sudden calm, near anger turning to wild joy? Perhaps there were guardian angels after all, and Victoria was conversing with hers. 

It was not the first time my daughter reminded me of things I had forgotten about the world. Once, holding her in front of the hall mirror, I sneezed. Victoria looked straight into my face and began to laugh--I mean a genuine, uncontrollable fit, with breathless snuffles, scrunched nose, tears in her eyes. It was hilarious to her that a dust fleck and a facial grimace should produce such a sound. Later I watched her display the same unrestrained glee over the most ordinary things: a cat rubbing against my leg, a carton of yogurt tipping over, water rising in the bathtub. My daughter had discovered comedy, and it was the finest thing life had to offer.

As a mother at home with my child, I often felt that the world with all its mystery was opening to me. Now we were probing the relationship between comedy and creation. Comedy is incongruity: a thing happens that could, imaginably, have happened another way. For a mind new to the world, most things fall into this category. Gravity. The location of ears. The moon hanging above the trees. Yawns and bellows from the mouths of furry beasts.

When I discussed this with my husband (a seminary student at the time), he told me that Victoria and I had stumbled upon the classic philosophical question of causality. Just because Cause A regularly produces Effect B, it doesn't mean there is an iron-clad, logical relationship between the two. When you toss the toy down the stairs, it isn't necessary that it rolls. G. K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, presents the idea this way:

All the terms used in the science books, “law,” “necessity,” “order,” “tendency,” and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, “charm,” “spell,” “enchantment.” They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery.

Babies sense this. For them, rules of nature are not rules, but wonders. What to adults is simple cause and effect, to them is occasion for laughter. Because they are fresh to creation, babies have the purest, most undiluted sense of humor. The supreme funny bone, if you will. Why should such a cause have such an effect? One-plus-one always equals two; we can imagine it no other way. But when Daddy steps up on a chair and his head is suddenly bumping the ceiling, it's funny. When Mommy cracks an egg into a bowl, why should the yoke go down? Why not up? It's all startling and novel. To Victoria, it was hilariously illogical. Surely somebody schemed it.

Our daughter's amusement with the world was her own apologetic. It was her evidence that this is a created place and the Creator smiled when he thought it up. Because of her, I could imagine God's mirth when he commanded the homely caterpillar to sprout rainbow wings, or the satin blossom to unravel and become crisp fruit. I imagined his delight over a glossy wave turning to white foam. Or lightning leaping across the clouds. The tiny mustard seed sheltering the birds of the air.

Mr. Hoyt Bowman, an elderly usher at our church, had the self-appointed task of distracting fussy babies brought to the back of the sanctuary. One Sunday, Victoria's eye was caught by his shiny black patent leathers. To amuse her, he began sashaying them together in little zigzags. Victoria was captivated by the bouncing black tips. He popped them up and down, heel to toe. Victoria chuckled. Here, comedy and art found their perfect blend. Light and motion were noticed for what they truly are: created things. Victoria smiled as if to say, “Now that is original.” And of course, in the truest sense, it was.

In Year Two, the complexity of Victoria's nature became more apparent. Those Wordsworthian “clouds of glory” which had seemed to trail her showed up soiled after all, and with the rest of humanity, she tugged at the world to pull it her way. There was willful defiance of what to us were perfectly logical commands: Keep the beans on the tray, the milk in the cup, the doll out of the toilet.

Still, she was full of mirth. She reminded us that there is a Creator. The universe is ordered by him. In him all things hold together as by a spell. The ancient psalmist never doubted, and neither should we, that one day the rivers will clap their hands and the mountains sing together for joy at his coming. Until then, should we sneeze at the thought of angels in our midst?