Sunday, November 13, 2011

Firstborn

To call Cecilia Olavsdatter the firstborn child of Olav Audunsson and Ingunn Steinfinnsdatter is several ways wrong. The child is born near the end of The Snake Pit, second of four books in Sigrid Undset’s Master of Hestviken series, by which time Ingunn has given birth to several other children. But for reasons you will have to read to discern, reasons having to do with the deep contradictions within our hearts, Olav sees Cecilia as his first child. Undset’s writing is so beautiful that I could not help thinking of my own firstborn child—thinking and smiling.

Undset describes the moment Olav first sees Cecilia:

And again it was as though he had fallen among incredible things—a girl’s face, impossibly small, but perfect, the fairest! A new-born life, and it could look like that. Her eyes were open; dark they were and bottomless—and she was red and white like a brier-rose and had nose and mouth like a human being, but so small that he could not understand it . . . 

Olav takes the child in his arms and cannot put her down:

Olav still held his little daughter in his hands—a gift, a gift she was. It softened him—so grateful beyond measure he had never been before. He laid his face against the baby’s breast—her face was so pure and fine that he durst not touch it.  

My own firstborn has the mixed fate of being so like her father that she and I have been known to lock horns once in a while. We are Bulls, don’t forget. But we have already written one book together. And now that she has moved on from writing to acting, I follow her career with deep respect and with an affection that surprises me sometimes with its sharpness.

She will always be my firstborn—and so grateful beyond measure I have never been before.

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