Counting their fingers and toes…
I had heard the phrase before but I didn’t really get it. Why would you count their fingers and toes? You already know how many there are.
It wasn’t until my third baby that I finally tried it.
One, two, three, four, five…
The other little chubby hand was cramped under my back so I decided to count the same fingers again, slower this time.
And then it was like magic.
I kept counting over and over again, slower and slower, smiling to myself and wondering why I had never tried it before. Because even though I knew those fingers and toes, I didn’t really know.
Because there are different stages of knowing. There are different stages of gratitude. It is one thing to count your blessings in a routine sort of way. Or to systematically thank God for them. It is another thing to reflect on them, to contemplate them. It’s one thing to know someone or something exists and to be able to recognize and describe and even care for that someone or something. Its another thing to know and love someone or something like it is a part of you. Only contemplation can produce that kind of knowledge.
Babies are expert at this contemplation. They are not interested in being productive or efficient. They are only interested in focusing entirely on the object of their affection. When my baby is falling asleep, he likes to hold his little fist above his face and watch it open and close, open and close, slower and slower, open and close. Until finally his eyes open and close open and close, open and close. His little fist relaxes and drops at his side. And I count his fingers.
It is not just babies’ fingers that we can count. It is not just babies that we can contemplate. We can count the leaves on trees, the petals on flowers, the wrinkles on the face of a sleeping, aging spouse. We all must learn to contemplate the things and the people that we love.
I don’t think social media or the internet is evil. But I do think that it’s very dangerous and has greatly damaged our capacity for contemplation. I spent way too many feeding sessions with my firstborn scrolling mindlessly on my phone so that my time would not feel “wasted.” And I certainly don’t think it’s bad to try to answer emails or texts or read something during those seemingly endless, sleepless hours in a rocking chair. Sometimes it’s the only way to stay awake! But it can’t be the default. We must have some limits. We need time and space for contemplation.
Because that’s what life is all about. So much of work and planning is for the sake of the people we love and being able to spend time with those people. Why save up to retire if you are not going to be ready to retire? To sit in a rocking chair and watch birds or squirrels and talk to the same companion you’ve had for fifty years? Why work hard all week if you’re just going to spend the weekend editing the documentation of your weekend and scrolling through the documentation of other people’s weekends? Contemplation is life. It is where the true richness is. Lovers understand this easily. New parents often do. But it is so easy to get distracted by the louder aspects of life. We have to get back to those activities which seem repetitive and quiet and overly simplistic but are like lullabies for our souls. We have to get back to prayers said over and over on worn out beads. We have to get back to quiet evenings on the porch by candlelight. We have to get back to counting fingers and toes.
Brenda Steele says
Elizabeth, there was a time, when I was young and at home with my babies, when I took care to contemplate the simple joys in life, and they were the happiest of times. Later, when I returned to teaching and life became exceedingly hectic I used to dream of the day when I could sit on my front porch, and, with no deadlines to meet, reflect on whatever crossed my mind. Now, though retired for a few years, I find myself, again, creating too much busyness leaving little time for reflection. Thank you for your excellent piece and for the reminder to “count fingers and toes.” I plan to do more of both!