Just after 7:30 this morning my younger son and I trekked out to the driveway in our slippers and pajamas, a box of sidewalk paint, a roll of masking paint, and my cup of coffee our only companions.
I felt like I was shushing him every other minute, which was probably true—after all, he’s only five and we had technically stepped outside the bounds of our house before the neighborly, agreed-upon hour of eight o’clock.
But there we were, bending down on the hard ground like holy creators, poised to design stained glass creations in our driveway, perhaps greater than any archaic cathedral’s.
“Look, Mama!” my boy said, as we laid tape down on the ground and watched one right triangle overlap another. “An ice cream cone!”
“Oh wow, you’re right, buddy,” I replied.
“And look, a snowflake!” His excitement was palpable, contagious, really.
“That is a snowflake, buddy!” I said, as I took another sip of my coffee. Where I simply saw abstract shapes, he saw so much more, his imagination soaring with creativity and possibility.
Soon enough, chalk dust covered our hands, our pajama bottoms and the sides of our cheeks, particles burrowing into hidden crevices of our skin and clothes. Bright pastels dotted the gray landscape of the pavement. It was like the large, circular driveway we share with two other houses had been transformed into a thing of hope.
I needed this, I thought to myself. I needed this magic, this little bit of light in the darkness.
When it was finally time to tear away the masking tape, I began to make my way inside for my cell phone. Surely, we needed to record our creation, to try and capture the moment in time – but my boy simply shook his head no. It was enough for the two of us to witness the great unveiling.
Because then, the moment: as my hands released the tape, I couldn’t help but stare at his reaction. I watched his eyes widen like saucers, and listened as his mouth let out a squeal, like he couldn’t help it. I saw his jaw drop open, hung in midair like a feather in flight; I witnessed his hands move in synchronous motion up to the sides of his face, slowly at first, then quickly.
It was a holy invitation into wonder and amazement, a dare to lean into the present and “choir the proper praise,” as Annie Dillard wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.
As I am often wont to write, I do believe these God-moments are everywhere, if, of course, we’re willing to pay attention. But if I’m honest, it feels like I’ve had to work extra hard lately to see any sort of epiphany.
I may have learned how to be a teacher nearly twenty-five years ago in college, but that doesn’t mean I know how to teach my own children, now that homeschool has been thrust upon us. Likewise, I may know the basics of honoring and walking alongside someone in grief, but when waves of sadness—of missing our friends and missing what was, just to name a couple—constantly seem to wash over my sons, my husband and me, I feel like I’ve been knocked over.
I crash into the wet sand. I gulp in mouthfuls of salty water. I try and stand up but I am bowled over, again, again. Surely, in these moments of overwhelm, when grief feels truer than ever before, I most need a glimpse or two of grace.
So, I give it another go. I close my eyes. I breathe deeply.
I beg forgiveness (more than seventy times seven moments a day, it seems), and I open my eyes to those holy epiphanies that really are right in front of me—colored on pavement and snuggled under forts in the living room, nestled in beds and seated around a scratched and worn dining room table.
I trace fingers over this surface of mystery, as Dillard once told me to do. I take a wider view. I choir the proper praise.