Before you answer, be aware that that is a leading question. Your answer will give me a solid clue as to whether you live in a suburb. If you do, you very likely spend a significant amount of time behind the wheel of a vehicle dwellers in an urban village like mine connect, not with family names like Smith or Jones, but with ones like VIA or Uber.
Today, I met about a dozen newborns. One at a time. Not grouped or related. None because of being accompanied by a nanny, mom or other guest at the local coffee house where newborns arrive in multiples of four to six in the company of similar numbers of parents and large wheeled vehicles that would present an impossible challenge to being transported by any version of non-commercial vehicles. By necessity, this segment of the population travel by foot. They are the infantry of infant socialization.
As a writer who devoted an entire chapter of her book Aunts to the importance of speaking the word, “Welcome” to a newborn you meet for the first time, you can imagine what a windfall these daily meetings afford. And, no less a “find” is the response of the accompanying parent to this expression of pleasure at meeting a new member of our shared urban village. And of recognizing that simply by his or her arrival the baby has enriched our entire world. As one who has always contended that the baby being offered a verbal word of welcome clearly “gets it,” so it can be said of parents. I have rarely met a parent who turned away an acknowledgement that his or her baby is a singularly positive addition of our urban village.
These encounters do not, our course, make me a stand out in local lore. They do, however illustrate some of the significant differences between being a suburbanite versus a dweller in an urban village like the one in which I live. We are awash in variety. While there are the “regulars” we see and take note of as we walk familiar routes to favorite destinations, there are always the discoveries. The man whose name you may never know but cannot help but be intrigued by how his profile quite remarkably resembles that of his Bedlington Terrier.
These happenings occur while waiting at traffic crossings; gatherings in the elevators or mailrooms of apartment houses; pausing to admire the courage of the tulips that have decided to emerge in spite of a succession of seasons that has made April a phenomenon of 3-4 distinctive seasons happening in a single week. These are the daily bread of urban villagers especially ones whose “villages” exist in the setting of populations that number in the tens of thousands.
In case you have never paused to consider that it is something of a luxury to know your dry cleaner’s name, or the health status of the mother of the manager of the local Staples, or the handyman who is the magic Mr. Fixit everyone depends upon; or to recognize that the teenager in a half leg cast is feeling justifiably depressed by the turn of events and to whom a smile returns when she is reminded that a bit of sadness often accompanies an orthopedic injury and that it will pass.
It is yet another fringe benefit of life in an urban village that a visit to the laundry room will provide the opportunity to learn that the little boy you have watched grow to handsome manhood is about to be awarded a Ph.D. from one of Germany’s most prestigious faculties of philosophy.
It is not to be taken for granted that the small child the doorman greets by name and does fist bumps with as he announces him as his valued assistant, feels just that bit more empowered as he enters the school bus.
The increasing number and variety of infant dwellers in this urban village might technically be attributed to the economics and demographics of the need to generate two incomes to support new family members. It could also have something to do with the challenges of commuting from the distance of what one time was considered an automatic destination for couples as they welcomed children and grew into families.
But I’m sure you will forgive me if I think of it as a bonus to all the adults who share their urban village. We earlier arrivals find in our infant neighbors daily reminders of hope and newness. That puts a special shine on a world where a “been there/done that” attitude could otherwise threaten to make us blind to what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins describes in these words, “The dearest freshness dwells deep down things.” To which I reply in words that epitomize this season, “Amen. Alleluia!”
Opening photo: Pixabay