I leaned my head over Gideon and softly said into his ear, “Alright little man, in a few minutes I’m going to have to put you down so I can go up front and say a prayer, okay?” He shifted slightly in the nest he had made on my lap. His ear was pressed up against my chest and he had burrowed himself into my dress shirt.
He smiled lazily up at me and nodded. “Okay,” he loudly whispered back, “You get small soon.”
I looked back up at the boy’s grandfather who was speaking from the podium at the front of the room. We were at the memorial service for a friend’s mother, and I tried to focus on the eulogy of this woman as her life, faith, and accomplishments were summarized in just a few minutes and a handful of pictures. But I was distracted by what the boy had just said, and with a sigh, I leaned back down and quietly asked him, “Okay… What do you think Daddy said just now?”
He squinted towards the front of the room. “You say, Daddy…” he lifted his hand up near his face, “…will get small.” he held his thumb and forefinger out as if he were holding his 3-inch tall granddaddy in his hand.
“Oh, because Granddaddy is small right now?”
“And soon Daddy will be small like that?”
“Yes!” He turned back to me. “I like you BIG.” He opened his fingers as wide as he could make them, and placed his index finger on the top of my head. Then, he reached his left hand as far as he could reach down my leg.”
I pulled him back tight against my chest and ran my fingers through his curly hair and with a silent prayer I took a deep breath and made myself as big as I possibly could.
As I held in this breath I tried not to think about how every moment from here on, I was shrinking. With my next breath I would be slightly smaller, and then with the next I would be smaller still. I was now a deflating balloon, going to work one size and coming home as a shrunken copy of myself. An ocean constantly flowing in and out, growing and shrinking between the fingers of this little boy who is himself only growing and expanding.
This boy was now, even as I held him, slowly backing away from his ebbing and flowing father, the ocean. He was a boy walking up the beach, leaving behind tiny ever growing footprints, until one day, he will be a man turning to enter the forest of life, eyes wide with wonder, the tiny white cap waves of his father tossing behind him, urging him onward, calling him back.
As he gets bigger, I will become smaller through his eyes. And as he becomes more independent, I will become more distant. And this will continue, back and forth, until one day, I will shrink to nothing, and will just be a soft soothing sound of rushing waves that he hears in his mind somewhere, echoing over a hillside when he stops for breath in a clearing, a soft crashing of water against sandy rocks to make him laugh remembering a time when he was small, and nothing was larger than the man that held him in his arms one day. I will become so small I am nothing more than a noise that fits inside his ear, whispering words that only he himself can hear as he leans back in a chair someday, and closes his eyes, and smiles, and presses a little boy up to his chest, and realizes just how big he has become.