Soft and Sharp All at Once
"It's terrifying how much this little thing changes you, makes you soft and sharp all at once."
My wife and I watched this episode of Once Upon a Time while sitting in her room in the maternity ward after the birth of our third daughter. In this context, Fiona's comment that a little baby makes you soft and sharp all at once resonated with me. Ignoring for a moment Fiona's choice to become the black fairy, I immediately began to reflect on the quote given how much my new little one was changing me.
There are few things in life that change a person like the birth of a son or daughter. In that moment my life changed forever. That little face looking up at me melts my heart and I just want to snuggle close to the little one and give her everything. When she starts to cry and no one else can sooth her, I know the specific tender touch or subtle movement that can calm her. This adorable and precious gift from God makes me soft like no other gift he has ever given me.
I would be ready to do almost anything to protect my daughter (though I hope I would stop short of becoming a black fairy to protect my daughter). In my own experience, I have found myself needing to be most sharp when protecting one of my daughters from herself. When one of my older daughters has tried to climb her dresser drawers to reach high above her head or reached up toward the hot stove to see what's cooking for dinner or taken off running towards oncoming traffic in a parking lot, my parental instinct kicks in and I am ready to be swift and sharp to make my daughter change her behavior. I can only imagine how these instincts will continue to make me sharper as my daughters become teenagers and the dangers they approach become even more severe.
A baby makes you soft and sharp all at once. While this may seem contradictory, a parent knows it to be true. In Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis wrote "It would not be out of place at this point to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love." I believe the softness and sharpness all at once of a parent is the best image to help us understand how these seemingly contradictory realities are two dimensions of a single reality. A father's softness and sharpness are two dimensions of the love he has for his son or daughter. While we may frequently connotate judgement with spite or even hate, a parent knows that sharp discipline is an expression of love just as much as a soft embrace. While frustration and anger may be present in a given experience, the ultimate root of a parent's sharpness is love, a love unlike any other power on earth.
Of course, this image - like any image - is not perfect. There are human parents who are too sharp or too soft when they should be both soft and sharp all at once. Nevertheless, the image of a parent's love for his or her child is perhaps the most powerful image to reveal to us the simultaneous mercy and justice of God. Like any image of God, we must take all of the good parts of the image and leave behind all of the bad parts of the image.
It's terrifying how much a little baby changes you, makes you soft and sharp all at once. This change effected by a parent's love for his or her son or daughter is unlike any other power on earth. This love reveals to us how the seemingly contradictory realities of justice and mercy are two dimensions of a single reality.