Last week I memorized the 23rd psalm. I haven’t memorized any prayers since grade school, but Texas and Indiana and North Korea just got to be a little too much. I realized I was afraid as I would carefully braid Ellie’s hair or gently hold Mae’s hand or kiss Everett’s cheeks, because when I did these things, I would ask: What does this all matter? What does it matter when I have to let them go out into a world that I can’t control? I’ll kiss their scrapes and clean their fingernails and make sure their blankets are tucked up under their chins– but what is it all for when the world doesn’t care?
And here’s the thing: there are only moments to think “what is it all for?” when there are moments to think at all. In short- letting yourself think can be scary. So before I memorized the 23rd psalm, I did a far safer thing to avoid thinking: I cleaned. (You’d never be able to tell, because as I picked up the pieces to Connect Four Mae was literally dumping out hundreds of dominoes– a veritable GIF for futility.) As far as avoidance and escapism goes, I suppose chronic power washing and decluttering is about as innocuous as you can get– but I’m still aware enough to know they are my escapes nonetheless. And what the heck? My house is still a mess. (There was a fork in the closet today. A fork in the closet.)
But when I eventually had to stop cleaning to rock Mae in the darkness- I brought my fear forth. I laid it at the alter and said I was so scared because the world doesn’t understand. I guess I chose to leave the fork on the closet floor and sit in the darkness instead. I whispered the 23rd psalm, and I felt something a little like peace. Which is also something like: you are loved, you are blessed, you are chosen. And so are they.
A few days later,the seven of us drove north amidst the seemingly endless plains of corn and soybeans along Rt 39, with only the occasional barn and silo to interrupt the horizon line. As I drove, the sun began to set to my left. I watched as what was once a full circle morphed to a half circle to a mere glow within minutes. A bona fide time lapse video. Mae was the only one awake and was demanding that we play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on repeat. “Tar! Tar!” she would cry. So we played it, and the music swelled– and I saw the fading orb to the west, vast and diminishing, dying as it gave life. Anything but little, anything but merely twinkling. And in my mind’s eye I saw the billions of other stars operating as the axis points of galaxies far vaster than our own. For a few seconds, I returned to wonder. I broke out of the mechanization and monotony by a means far better than fear– I broke free through wonder.
I get how all of this might not be everyone’s jam. Like- Liz- stop all the sentimentality and just go enjoy some sushi and wine and West World podcast. But I can’t, (at least, not yet) because I have learned that wonder is how I return to peace.
Even now as I type, I picture Mae as an old woman, driving north along Rt 39 in her self-driving car. There will be no need to stare out the window at the setting sun. She could just as easily be on her phone. She will have to choose to look at the sunset herself. And she will. “Star,” she will say with astonishment. “Star!”