“Wonder is my second favorite condition to be in after love—and I sometimes wonder whether there’s even a difference. Maybe love is just wonder aimed at a beloved. Wonder is like grace, in that it’s not a condition we grasp; wonder grasps us. We do not have the freedom to elude wonder’s grasp. We have the freedom to do all sorts of stupid things. By deploying cynicism, rationalism, fear arrogance, judgementalism, we can even evade wonder nonstop, all our lives. I’m not too fond of that gnarly old word ‘sin’, but the deliberate evasion of wonder does bring it to mind. It may not be biblically sinful to evade wonder. But, it is artistically and spiritually sinful.” – David James Duncan
This weekend was exhausting. I am fighting off some sort cold thing and can’t really sleep because I have been constantly choking on my own mucus. Even if I could sleep, I didn’t go to bed at any sort of reasonable time and woke up early with different kids on different days. But, this exhaustion is the sort of exhaustion that I welcome. If I have to be this tired to feel this much happiness, I’ll gladly subsist on coffee and wonderous joy.
Saturday morning, after gymnastics and dance, Cohen and I decided to spontaneously head to the auto show. Since it was snowing perilously for the 400th time this winter, we took the train and we didn’t get home until after 10:00 PM. Sunday night, Sophie and I went on our date to Willow Creek’s Daddy/Daughter Dance. Both events were filled with childish wonder that reminded me that Buechner was right when he told us that “if you do something childish, do so in remembrance that you are a child.”
Saturday afternoon on the train, Cohen stared out the top deck window with his jaw slack and eyes large as he declared “you can see everything from up here.” He spent the next hour and 32 minutes observing every thing in eyeshot on the Metra Union Pacific Northwest line. When the lady across from us began shouting obscenities into her phone, he noticed and a worried expression would cross his face. But each time (and it happened a lot—you try telling her to not swear, she was scary) he began to worry, all I had to do was point out something—anything and his head would snap back out the window and his face would mold back into the outward expression of marvel.
Sunday afternoon, I woke from the brief respite of a nap Liz had gave me and splashed some water on my face before donning my good suit. I met Sophia downstairs where she asked me “are you ready for the daddy daughter dance?” I brewed a cup of coffee to make my throat hurt less and to give me the energy to drive to the dance without passing out and driving into a 12 foot tall snow mound. She fell asleep in the car and when we arrived, we both put on a good face as we walked through the cold into the Stonegate Banquet center where we were roused by the beautiful decorations and the dozens of people trying to make our night special.
At the autoshow, I let Cohen lead the way as he wandered from car to car deciding in seemingly random fashion which ones he wanted to sit in. Though his focus was on cars, we stopped for food at 6 different places and he must have told me he was hungry 30 times. I could have easily convinced him we were done in time to catch the 6:30 train home—all he really needs is to play in trucks, something we had done until there were none he hadn’t been in and see some of the kids displays (which were mostly lame this year). But, I knew he had wanted to see the Blackhawks display and we couldn’t catch the 6:30 if we went to that. So, we spent another 2 hours checking stuff out and took the 8:30 train home, where he passed out on my lap against his strong desire to stare out the window again on the top deck.
Sophie and I “danced” to nearly every song. Mostly she ran and spun and twirled and fell down in other peoples’ personal space. But also, she let me pick her up and dance cheek to cheek during slow songs. During fast songs, she let me spin her and lift her over my head while she laughed and smiled. During Butterfly Kisses, despite my aversion to sap, I cried. She told me to put her down, but I wouldn’t and she slapped my cheeks and poked my face. But, towards the end of the song, she kissed me on the cheek and fell asleep on my shoulder.
Waiting in the food court before the train, Cohen again wanted to eat. Unpacking our stuff by the popeye’s, we met Kayla, a homeless woman who asked for Cohen’s biscuit. I told her to order what she wanted and I’d buy. She ordered an 18 dollar bucket of chicken and dinner. She was very worried that someone would take her stuff while we walked up to order, so Cohen volunteered to watch it. (we were the first table across from the counter). We ate dinner with her and Cohen told her about Gymnastics and the autoshow. We hugged her and told her to stay warm and apologized that we couldn’t buy her a train ticket, which she had asked for. She thanked us and we walked to the train, Cohen almost unable to comprehend that she didn’t live in a house. The ticket agent wouldn’t take our ticket and we had to buy a new one.
At the dance, there were so many girls of all ages so happily there with their dads. Sophie is always so happy, its easy to forget what her sheer joy looks like. Towards the end of the dance, the girls sit on the floor as the dad’s stand around them and sing ‘My Girl’ with only two rules 1) keep eye contact and 2) sing loud. The look on each girls face from 2 to 18 years old was the same. I know because I looked at them when Sophie stopped making eye contact and poked the girl next to her in the chest. They were girls who were loved. More importantly, they were girls who knew they were loved. An extremely awkward girl maybe 13 years old with big coke bottle glasses and a nerd in the not-new-nerd-chic sort of haircut danced with such reckless, fist pumping, head bobbing, kneel down and air guitar the most face melting solo of all time abandon that King David in his skivvies could have stopped to stair. But I don’t think David would have. Because I think he, like me, would have watched this girl go nuts on song after song in the knowledge that she was in a safe place, where she was loved, and cried with proud joy that she was so unafraid. That girl bared her soul’s joy because her soul’s joy demanded it, haters be damned.
During one of our many food breaks, Cohen and I were sitting on the floor behind the VW display when Melvin and Mustafa came and sat by us. They were 2 precocious cub scouts who sat almost in my lap the way Seinfeld’s notorious close talker spoke. They told us a million things about their pine wood derby cars and asked Cohen a million questions about his toy mustang he made. Their dad came and told them to back up a little. But they stayed and talked with Cohen and I and there was understanding that all five of us (the dad now included) were in a safe place. We could have caught the 6:30 train if we had talked less with them. But, we stayed.
Towards the end of the night, while eating her ice cream Sunday, Sophie had the only moment that could even come close less than complete fullness and joy when she announced “I don’t think I like my brownies.” She also looked up at the framed photo of the two of us taken earlier in the night and asked “can we bring this home?” When I told her we could, she nearly dropped her spoon and squealed in delight “oh good!” She clutched that photo most of the rest of the night and fell asleep with it in her hand on the way home. It’s a good picture of the two of us smiling it’s sitting on her dresser now as I write.
Much of my writing borders on schmaltz because I try to bring to life and draw meaning from everyday mundanities. I believe Jesus when he says that we will live life and live it to the fullest. So I try to give voice to that. This weekend, however, does not need reflection and verbosity to make it stick in the corners of my brain that hold the constantly fading memories. The late Mike Yaconelli wrote in his classic “Dangerous Wonder” that the “we have forgotten how to dance, how to sing and how to laugh.” But this weekend, I remembered a little and I realized that my kids haven’t forgotten those gifts with which they were born. For me, the events of this weekend themselves brought joy. The excitement and happiness I lived vicariously through my kids not only enriched my understanding of the world, it showed me Liz and I reflected back through a mirror that somehow makes the looker seem more beautiful. I write them down here not because I fear forgetting, but because like the awkward girl at the dance taught me, the soul’s joy must be shared.