She must have been about a year old, give or take a few months.
She came into my life during the third inning of a game between the Durham Bulls and the visiting Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. My seat at the ball park is a good one, affording a great view of the playing field. It’s at the end of a row, so I have to get up now and then to let others enter and leave the row.
There is a minor disadvantage to this location, though. The main stairway to seats in this section is right next to my right shoulder, so my view of the field is compromised by a constant parade of fans coming and going to and from their seats, often carrying food and drink. Young parents carry their children as they traverse this stairway multiple times during a game. Occasionally one notices a parent watching over a toddler as the child navigates the stairs on his or her own, a step at a time.
My concentration on the game on this particular evening was interrupted when just at my shoulder a tiny hand wrapped itself around the metal railing. I turned to look and was rewarded with a bright, sweet smile. Eye contact. Her mother, a few steps away, beamed proudly and reached her hand to help the little girl continue her journey down the concrete steps. One step at a time, the child continued, grasping the railing.
A few steps further, then she turned, glancing back at me, and flashed that beautiful smile again.
As the proud father of three daughters, all now adults, and five granddaughters and one grandson, I know well the beauty of a child’s smile. It fills one’s heart and can heal.
Several minutes later, my friend returned, leading her attentive mother back up the steps, carefully, one at a time, tiny hand grasping the grown-up railing, looking ahead. Then she spotted me, and that young face again brightened with that gorgeous smile.
In that moment, we connected again. New friends — a beautiful child whose life is just beginning and an old man whose long life’s journey she has blessed afresh, with her innocent, spontaneous smile offering him cherished memories and a full heart.
Thank you, sweet child. I will remember your gift for a long time.