I recently saw a baby learn his first lesson in loss.

His young mother had wheeled him onto the bus in a burst of energy. Now, he sat contentedly, pudgy feet dangling aimlessly from his stroller, small fingers clumsily extracting cereal from a little jar that had been placed in front of him, mouth perpetually mid-toothless smile.

An elderly woman, upon seeing him, came to a stop. She looked at him adoringly over the rims of her enormous, bug-eyed sunglasses; her eyes crinkled into a smile, and she began to speak. Her voice shook as she gently croaked all possible forms of “Aren’t you a sweet little boy?” in his direction. Interested but shy, little mouth hanging open, he stared up into her face questioningly.

“Can you say ‘Hi!’?” his mother asked in the high-pitched, overly cheery voice that we reserve for verbally cuddling babies. The little boy just grimaced lightly, then continued to stare quizzically at the woman, his expression a mixture of awe and confusion. The old lady just laughed.

And then she pushed the big red button labeled “Stop”, and then she was gone.

Something came over his face then. His eyes grew extremely big – two emerald-green orbs – and they glazed over. He stared fixedly at the place where the old lady had stood just seconds ago, lip sucked in, tiny fingers pinching a last piece of cereal, a little drop of drool dripping slowly down his chin.

“Bye-bye!” his mother said, realizing his confusion. “Say ‘Bye-bye!’”

The boy’s mouth wrinkled into a perplexed frown, and his eyes still glazed over, he watched where the old lady had been. Some minutes later, very slowly, his small hand began absent-mindedly bringing more pieces of cereal into his mouth. He chewed, but distractedly.

Photo: Paul Flynn