I saw a flower fall the other day.
It was lovely, really.
At first I noticed it from the corner of my eye, then I turned to see the sight.
The petal just detached itself and floated effortlessly to the ground
as if it finally decided to take that trip it had been planning for weeks.
And there I was, charmed, watching it alight ever so gently upon the ground.
Who am I to be graced with this vision? I thought.
Of all the people in the world, I am the only one here to witness this beautiful event.
No one will ever see what I saw.
The bright white.
The gentle texture.
The graceful motion.
The fading beauty.
Yes, by now it is already gone.
Gone from my sight and gone from the world.
Yet it lives in my memory. Lives in these words.
I saw a flower fall the other day.
It was lovely, really.
I walk into the living room to find our youngest daughter at the computer. Without looking up, she asks me for help. I approach the screen and see that she's on the checkout page for a donation to the Red Cross.
I place my hand on her shoulder and smile. "What's up?"
My attention is drawn to a small pile of green bills sitting next to her. She has cash in hand from some extra chores she’s been doing around the house lately. She moves the pointer across the screen, evidently reading the text closely to make sure she understands everything.
“We’ll need to use your account and I’ll just give the money to you,” she says. Without waiting for a response, she selects “Wherever it’s most needed” as the donation option.
Her sister is standing nearby now watching our exchange. There's nothing left for me to do but agree to the terms, so I fork over my Paypal approval and kiss her on the forehead. I squeeze her shoulder and tell her I’m proud of her desire to help people. She nods ever so slightly, then hops up and goes about her business.
I walk away feeling a sense of awe. At nine years old, my daughter empathizes with the concerns of other people in a way that I struggle to apprehend even after years of careful cultivation. I don't know what exactly accounts for the blossoming of social conscience -- why it develops so much more fully in some people than others -- but I certainly wish that I did.
I had a laundry list of chores to accomplish around the house this evening that I wanted to get done before the rain sets in tomorrow.
My son, however, had plans of his own. He decided he was going to dig a hole in the yard next to the fort we're building so he could install a small "decorative pool."
Toward the end of the evening, I was busting butt to complete my final chore when he came over and asked for my help.
I looked down at the four rows of lettuce yet to be planted and balked; I really wanted to get them in before the rain. But he was really excited about his project -- so excited that he skipped his evening session of video games for it.
"Ok," I said. "I'll be over in a minute." And I put my tools away and went to help him dig.
An hour and a half later, the hole was finished and lined with plastic. We took a walk to the creek together to look for some stones to place in the bottom.
At some point, I caught myself watching him work and my thoughts drifted back in time to my own dad. Dad's been gone for ten years now. Ten heartbreaking years.
In that moment, my son was me and I was my dad. Nostalgic, I thought about all the stuff we used to do together... how he would let me help him work on things around the house. I miss those days.
As I watched the boy work, two words formed in my mind: "Time together." Time together is our most valuable commodity. What I miss more than anything about Dad is our time together. And what I cherish now more than anything with my son is the time we spend together. These times are the best.
The boy looked up at me and smiled. My thoughts returned to the present and I smiled back at him. I was glad I left that lettuce in the tray.
I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't say something here about the current pandemic that is literally changing the shape of society.
The global spread of the coronavirus has been unlike anything to precede it in my generation. For many reasons, I believe this to be an apocalyptic moment.
Apocalypse just means "unveiling" or "uncovering." An apocalyptic moment is a time when certain things that were previously hidden from sight are made known.
COVID-19's impact on society has uncovered many valuable lessons for anyone who is paying attention. Chief among those lessons is that the "unskilled" workers at the bottom of the social hierarchy are just as valuable is not more so than the financiers at the top.
The farmers and grocery store clerks and front line workers are the ones holding this entire edifice together. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos has increased his net wealth by $24 billion.
I'm not bitter but I am concerned. It's well past time that we flip the pyramid right side up, and for the moment at least, we have a crisis that may precipitate such action.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.” -Wendell Berry
My personal story has a lot of God in it. What I mean is that the concept and experience of God has played a large role in my life. My spirituality has a Christian flavor to it because Christianity is the tradition in which I was raised.
Now, that's not to say that my understanding of God hasn't grown and evolved over time. The evangelical in me wants to say that I've gotten to know God better over the years, but there are other parts of my self in the driver's seat right now, so I don't use that terminology as much anymore. So, I'll just say that things are different.
About a year or so ago, I came to a impasse in my spiritual journey where I felt like God was wanting me to go on without him. I understand how strange that may sound, but I'd like to relay a little of my experience here, so please here me out. In some ways, I'm just beginning to move beyond this impasse; I suppose this goes to show how difficult it's been for me to navigate.
It can be troubling, after all, when you first arrive at the place Wendell Berry referred to where you no longer know what to do and you know longer know which way to go. Joseph Campbell implied as much when he said, "If you can see your path laid out in front of you... you know it's not your path." I think what he meant by this is that your own path has not been and cannot be made by anyone else; it remains for you alone to blaze.
Sadly, most people never arrive at their own path. Instead, they are content to follow the path of other people all their lives. Sometimes, though, one is compelled by forces unknown to launch out into the deep... to cut anchor and leave the harbor in which they have lived all their days. See the biblical character of Abraham for instance. He went out, not knowing where he was going, in search of a city that was "not built with human hands" (Hebrews 11:10).
I like to think that this is the place where I recently arrived, at least in my own little way. My journey with God (as I understood God) had taken me as far as it could and it was time for something new. I liken it to a father-child relationship. At some point, the child has to grow up and move out of the house and embark on his of her own life. If this transition never occurs, one can assume that the parent has failed to equip their child for life without them. In that sense, I guess you could say it was like God finally told me to go get a job and find my own place.
I'd like to wax eloquent about this some more, but I'm afraid I'd get lost in the woods trying to explain what I mean any better than I already have. Instead, I'll leave you with one of my journal entries from back when I first sensed this transition occurring and tried to put it into words.
December 11, 2018
the smell of spring is all it takes.
The gentle fragrance blowing in from the peach blossoms out back makes me feel alive.
My heart rises on the breeze
and I become inspired.
Other times, though,
it kills my sinuses
And all the Sudafed in the world isn’t enough to stir my affection for the season.
I’ll stay in bed and curse the day I was born before I write another damn line about the beauty of nature.
To hell with my discipline.
I love to stay home with the kids.
We relax and play together and enjoy each other’s company.
I notice all the wonderful little ways in which they are developing
and I feel like this is the way life is supposed to be.
Other times, though,
they drive me crazy,
And all I want to do is go to work where I’ll think of them fondly again.
I hope they never read these words, of course,
at least not until they are old enough to understand.
"To every thing there is a season,
And a time to every purpose under heaven."
It's true, after all.
Sometimes it sucks, but it's true.