The airport in Meridian is small. The big planes don't go in there; you fly commuter planes in and out. There are four people ahead of me in line, and another twenty already in the waiting room. That's more or less it. This is the life, I think.
Two of the four people aren't even passengers. A family from Mexico is ahead of us: a young woman and her husband who live here are saying good-bye to her mother and her younger sister after a visit. The young woman is pregnant, maybe seven months along, by the look of her. Out of the corner of my eye I see her mother bend deeply toward her and then straighten in a motion that arrests my attention. The four continue to talk and embrace, smiling and teary. Again I see that bending motion. What is she doing?
Now we are beginning to walk to the plane, where only passengers can go. It is time. And now I see: in turn, the grandmother and then the young aunt bend toward the young mother's round belly and kiss it. They are saluting the baby.
The Spanish word for 'pregnant" is "embarazado." In Spanish, you say what you see, for the most part, and so "embarazado" sounds like the English word "embarrassed." I think of that word immediately as I watch the grandmother and the aunt bid farewell to the unseen little one who is joining their family. Embarazado. But they are not embarrassed at all.
It is we who are embarrassed. I try to imagine one of my relatives kissing my round belly decades ago when I was carrying my babies, and my imagination fails me. Can't picture them doing it or myself permitting it; we all would have died a thousand deaths. I think of our little pecks on the cheek, our awkward embraces, of the way we move toward a handshake whenever an embrace threatens. We're terrified. North American culture is guarded, isolating: keep your feelings to yourself, keep your body to yourself, keep everything to yourself. Throughout the land we post signs: Private Property: Keep Out. We post our spirits in just the same way. Keep Out.
And we are the poorer for it. A baby isn't private property. People aren't property. A baby belongs to the world, will inherit the world when its parents are gone. A baby is the future, worthy of respect as an individual, even before she is an individual. A baby has a relationship with the world already, independent of mother or father or family.
They embrace the unknowable future of a child when they bend to kiss the unborn. Prepare a respectful way of welcome. Acknowledge the image of God in each of us, an image present before we are smart enough or big enough or strong enough to do much at all in the way of showing it forth.