Elizabeth asked Alexander to get her a slice of cheese. Evangeline sat across the table from her, and I was futzing around with some dinner, having arrived home late. Alexander, age two, walked in his purposeful way from the table to the fridge.
He opened the fridge, then opened the little drawer where the cheese and deli meats are kept. He removed the smoked cheddar slices. I saw all this out of the corner of my eye. It was unfolding as though in a dream. Where else but in a dream does one ask a child to do something for you, get you something, fetch you something, and they commence doing it without a word of protest or commentary?
It was after he had the package out and in his hand, and had pushed the drawer closed, that he made his first misstep or, to look at it another way, that he showed for the first time signs of being his age, which is two. The misstep was trying to get a single slice of cheese out of the packet while standing there inside the open fridge door. What happened was that all the cheese fell out and flopped to the floor. Undaunted, the little man bent over, peeled a single slice off the pile on the floor, and delivered it to his mother. Then, without a word of discussion, he returned to the cheese on the floor, picked it up, put it back in its packet, opened the fridge door, the drawer, put it away, closed everything, returned.
Later that night, in the dark, as he snuggles beside his mother’s breast, I have a discussion with Elizabeth about this. “Can you believe that?” she mock whispers/yells. “He got me a piece of cheese!”
“No one else in this family would do something like that for me.”
“Certainly not without any discussion,” I say. “It really is incredible. He has this thing…”
I can’t put it into words. Instead I bring up the Lunch Bunch. Alexander loves the Lunch Bunch, which meets three days a week after his school ends at noon. For three days a week he sticks around with a few other kids and has lunch with them until 1 PM. He actively lobbied for lunch bunch. He really likes it. Sometimes, if I ask him how school was, he will say, “I had lunch with my friends.” There is something about friendship really resonates with him, but it goes beyond that. He hardly knows the names of these kids but he has an acute sense of… what? community is too grand a word. Friendship? Something.
“He reminds me of my father,” I say to Elizabeth in the dark. “There is something my uncle told me before he died. It was a real gift.” We had visited Vienna, where my father grew up, a few years earlier. It was the last time I saw my uncle. And more or less the last thing we did together was go see the place where he and my father grew up. The tiny apartment occupied by five people with the bathroom in the hallway.
“There was apparently a candy store on the corner when they were kids, and he said that my father when he was little was very proud that he would go to get candy and then share his candy with his friends. It reminds me of Alexander.” We both looked down at the boy. The roundness of his face. The soulful, serious quality of his gaze and its mischief, both submerged in sleep. This little boy never met his grandfather, my father. To use that word, “met,” is only half the story, in such situations, because he never has and he never will. Unless some bit of fate has placed one inside the other, which is, after all exactly what has happened.
“He’s magnanimous,” says Elizabeth. “Yes, that is exactly right.” We stare at him for another moment. So much meaning invested in this little kid and the even littler acts of his generosity of spirit. May the spirit live on.