The arrival of Layla, at 6 pounds, 6 ounces, shortly before midnight on Aug. 4, was preceded by a good deal of stress and an appropriate amount of panic. She had stopped growing in the womb, and so the decision was made to induce labor, moving up the schedule by four days. Even then, there was a problem and then another, and all sorts of horrible thoughts were suppressed as relatives and other interested parties rushed for airplanes, while here, at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center, a cool miracle occurred. If you doubt me, you should see her face.

It is one of unsurpassed beauty. It sports a nose that is such perfection it will undoubtedly set the standards for beauty from this day forth. Above the nose and flanking it are eyes -- color still to be determined -- that even by Day 2 are amazingly alert -- curious, kind and intelligent. And capping all this, literally, is a shock of black hair of the sort noticed, generally and anecdotally, at the birth of future Nobel Prize winners of either sex, although not in economics. This, of course, can be looked up in the appropriate medical journals -- or so I am told.

And what is my relationship to Layla? Easy. I am her grandfather-by-proxy, a term of my concoction that is meant to disguise the sad fact that in conventional terms she is totally unrelated to me. She is my grandchild by affection, the daughter of the daughter of the woman I love. The bond is firm, strong, but the fact remains that as hard as I might search Layla's face or examine her long, fine fingers (pianist? surgeon?) or see the way she sets her mouth, I can find nothing of me in her. Still, I can guide her in her politics, advise her in her literature, make her wonder and doubt and always ask why. This will be my obligation. This will be fun.

I sit writing this in the hospital's lobby. Before me at the moment is an elderly woman in a wheelchair. A bald woman (cancer?) just passed by and so did a legless man who pushed himself powerfully in a wheel chair. The hospital, especially its lobby, is the crossroads of America, the place where you see all your fellow citizens. This is where most of us come into the world and where many of us leave it. The new hospitals are bright and airy, with coffee bars and gift shops and valet parking -- just like a hotel. Some people check in; some people never check out. Layla checked in the other day. I almost have to ask myself where she came from. Of course, I know. On the other hand, I don't. Only days ago she was not here at all.

The first days of Layla's life have been amply documented -- on videotape, on digital devices, on gizmos I could not begin to work. She was photographed at birth, and when she is changed and when she burps. It seems her every move is recorded and then downloaded and then digitized or something and then whisked around the country and the world. Her birth is a grand occurrence, a momentous renaissance of life itself. She is the oblivious center of a very big deal, a total mystery to those who try to interpret her every move. What does she understand? What does she feel? What can she see and what can she hear? She is precisely as we all were once and yet, frustratingly, not a single one of us can remember what we were like at the time. To say we were all once infants is like saying we were once all chipmunks in a previous life. Okay. If you say so.

At the time Layla was born, many important things were happening in this country and around the world. I know that. I know, too, that the birth of a child is commonplace. But this one was as different and unique as all the others, yet another miracle in a world that never gets inured to them -- a happy repository of the feeling that affects us all.

Thank God, someone else to love.

cohenr@washpost.com