The pub was packed with people. It was late April 2014 and it was King’s Day in the Netherlands. To honour it, several hundred Dutch had descended on a West-London drinking den frequented by expats. Everyone was dressed in orange and the beer was flowing.
When I elbowed my way back from the bar, my friend J. was happily sipping from a pint of water. I figured she might just not feel very well, but when she turned down a drink the next time we got together again, I got suspicious. A couple of weeks later, in yet another pub (we are not just drinking buddies, I swear!) she did not even have to say anything. Standing there, next to her delighted husband, it was obvious. They just looked too happy for it to be anything else: they were expecting.
Fast forward six months and I seemed to be more nervous than she was. In true J. style, she spent her last day before the planned C-section in a cafe, ordering pancakes and all the other wonderful things on the menu that she fancied. “I would like this and that and that”, she declared to the waitress with her biggest smile. “I am having a baby tomorrow, you know.”
And so it happened. At the crack of dawn on a Tuesday morning, the two of them parked outside the hospital. A few hours later, they were three. I had seen ultrasound pictures and admired the mini karate kicks against J’s ever-expanding bump. But nothing really prepares you for meeting a tiny, brand new human for the first time.
En route, I kept staring at the live world population meter, watching it go up every second or so. Little Finley was the seven-billion-two-hundred-thousand-and-somethingth person alive. Just one tiny baby on a planet full of people. The number alone meant so little, and yet so much.
The rapidly changing numbers on the screen reminded me of the words the Dalai Lama spoke to me when I interviewed him some years ago. He was explaining how he believes that humankind is one: “In my own case, if I only think of myself as ‘I am a Tibetan’ or ‘I am Buddhist’ that in itself creates a kind of distance. So I say to myself: ’Forget that, I am a human being, one of the seven billion human beings. By saying that, we immediately become closer.”
As I approached Finley’s first-ever home, I read up on her name. I smiled when I read that it is said to be derived from the Gaelic language and means something along the lines of ‘fair warrior’. With her passionate, spirited mum, I would not be surprised at all if she would turn into a brave little warrior one day.
On that first visit, though, the warrior was having a well-deserved rest. Sleeping for most of the time that she was in my arms, she allowed us plenty of moments to simply sit and admire the miracles of life. The miracle of her being born, with all fingers and toes and ears and eyes, so perfect and complete. The miracle of my friends becoming parents, with a seemingly instant feeling of confidence and responsibility. And the miracle of love, felt so strongly by everyone who saw baby Finley for the very first time.
This past year, I was lucky enough to say ‘nice to meet you’ to many extraordinary people. I met homeless footballers, exiled radio makers, Afghan cricketers, tiny teachers, local currency inventors and social sport coaches. But at the end of 2014, one little person topped them all.
Nice to meet you, dear Finley. Welcome to the world.