i am afraid of a lot of things. I worry about crime. I don't like flying. I try to avoid sleeping under framed photographs for fear that they will fall as I sleep and shatter on my face. But, most of all, I am afraid of germs. Like many hypochondriacs, I find it's the things that I can't see that scare me the most. At my worst moments, I have to open bathroom doors with my feet because I cannot bear to touch the handles with my freshly washed hands. When someone coughs in my vicinity, I hold my breath so as not to inhale the army of microscopic enemies that have been unleashed all around me. I have squirted so much hand sanitizer on myself that I am probably personally keeping the industry afloat.
Which is why, some two years later, I still feel shocked by a particular moment with my son, Isaac. It was a winter afternoon. Isaac was around eight months old, and the two of us were playing on the carpet. Isaac's most recent meal had been peas, and like a soldier in camouflage, his face was still largely hidden behind a thin green film.
If I recall correctly, our activity that afternoon was a little game I had taken to calling Gouge Daddy's Eyes Out, because it consisted of little more than Isaac pawing at my face with one of his pudgy, little hands and poking at my pupils. At some point amid the fun--probably in a desperate effort to save my vision--I lifted Isaac in the air over my face and began to coo at him in that uniquely dorky way that only a parent can.
And that's when it happened. Out of my son's sweet, little mouth came a line of thick, green drool. There may have been a split second--spit second--for me to save myself, but by the time I had gasped and flinched, it was too late. The drool landed not just on me but in my still gasping mouth.
Isaac had scored a direct hit. Had another baby been on the scene, he probably would have given Isaac a high five or a chest thump. Normally, if another person has salivated within a mile of me, it is enough to make me want to stop what I am doing and take a shower. Another person drooling directly into my mouth should have been enough to make me want to shower for the rest of my life. But at that moment, as I lay on the carpet tasting my son's lunch on my own tongue, I realized something incredible: I didn't care that his pea drool was in my mouth. I didn't even feel compelled to run to the sink and spit it out. My affection for Isaac was so great that it outweighed even my most powerful and fundamental fear: the germs of another human being.
Love is a notoriously hard thing to define. Western poets have been at it for a good millennium and still there is no consensus on just what it is that defines this most powerful connection between one human being and another. But, for a hypochondriac, there could be no better definition than this: When you truly love someone, it will not bother you when green liquids pour out of his or her mouth and into yours.