Today I went to visit my friends and their beautiful five day old baby, Lily. Being around a new baby fills me with awe. It's like being with a creature from another world, like being close to the heart of mystery, the heart of life. One of my very favorite things to see is the back of a nursing baby's head. I love the way the baby is so utterly focused on the breast, that beautiful closed circuit of mother and child. I love the little bobbing, the subtle back and forth, the small head moving with the flow of milk.
Many years ago, at the zoo, I sat on a bench and nursed my baby across from a gorilla, nursing hers. That gorilla baby's head had the same sweet focus, the same intense concentration as mine, same whorl of hair on the back of the head.
I love that whorl of hair on the back of babies' heads. I love to put my nose right in the center of the lovely sweeping spiral and breathe in that caramel new baby scent. Lily's whorl today reminded me of the satellite photos of Hurricane Katrina, but they couldn't be any more different. Lily's whorl speaks of life and hope and boundless possibility; Katrina's whorl, as beautiful as it is from a distance, speaks of destruction, uprooting, devastation.
My heart goes out to all the people in New Orleans and other affected areas as they flee their homes and brace for the storm. I've never been to New Orleans, and have always wanted to go. I've always assumed it would be there whenever I got around to buying a ticket; why would I think otherwise? It's a town that has always had a timelessness about it. How dizzying to remember that it (like everything else on the planet) is actually transient, finite. I find myself grieving for a place that I had hoped to get to know. I just read that one million people may be left homeless by this hurricane. One million people displaced. My mind can barely begin to comprehend the magnitude.
My sister and her family visited New Orleans last month. They bought me a gift there--a hairbrush shaped like a mermaid. Maybe when human beings evolve more, we'll go back to our watery roots and become amphibious, like mermaids. Then, after a hurricane hit, we could return to our flooded homes and lie down on our underwater sofas and flip through our sodden photo albums and find a way to adapt. But this hurricane isn't going to have any sort of fairy tale ending. This is going to break our hearts. And all I can do is try to feel the New Orleans in my mermaid brush, and brush the whorls out of my hair.