A few weeks ago the kids came alive chopping ice along the edges of a nearby pond. The intensity of their effort astounded me, and as is the case with effort, joy quickly followed. Papa Gary took them to the newly frozen water armed with shovels, hammers, and rakes. We covered their little fingers and toes in gloves and snow boots. Jacob and I followed to observe– first as supervisors, but quickly becoming students ourselves, unintentional witnesses to a lesson in wonder. The kids would smash the ice along the edges of the pond with their rakes and hammers, grunting with effort to haul in oddly shaped shards of frozen water. They would cry out what “state” the latest piece would resemble. “I’ve got Minnesota!” Sophie would shout, “I’ve got Michigan!” Ellie would respond. Again and again and again- they’d cry “Look it! Look at how much I got that time!” They breathed heavily, cheeks pink from movement and cold and delight, never once noticing how frigid and wet they surely were. Jacob and I just shook our heads, initially confused by their joy, but eventually giving into it, taking our own pictures of the ice shards as if they were newly discovered diamonds.
For isn’t that the truth of things- that it is not in efficiency, production or even purpose that we find meaning, but in the experience of life itself. “It is not meaning that we are seeking,” Joseph Campbell said, “But rather the experience of being alive.” And aliveness- strangely enough- has nothing to do with what you can accomplish (futility actually might be its friend)– or what reason lies beyond the experience, or what will come of that moment in the future. Aliveness abides in Being itself. The ice would obviously melt, many of the states were split before we were even able to give them proper witness, and there was no way to transport or store the mini-glaciers (though Papa Gary surely tried.)
Later on, we ate dinner around a crowded table. Darkness closes in around us early now, making our home its own light in the vastness beyond, like the small, soft glow of a planet surrounded by a much larger darkness. Cohen and Jacob hash out fantasy football, Sophie recounts how kids chased each other at recess, and Ellie tells us how she read the part of the “raccoon” in her class play. Everett recalls how somebody “pulled Mae’s shawt at pee-school.” I asked him what he did when he saw it, and he said “I cried.” (Be still, heart, be still.) Most of us all speak at once- starting sentences and usually not finishing them. The kids leave the table too early. They shove stools over to the refrigerator to dig through the drawers for shredded cheese and ketchup.
One day it will be quiet. Trips to the pond will surely be different then, and it’s true there will be fewer interruptions at dinner. In a new Avett Brothers song that made me cry, Scott sings “I’m bracing for loneliness, I know it’s coming”. And I feel that. Because I can see my future self sitting at an empty table; the scrape of chairs against the floor and the clatter of dishes and the cacophony of voices will all be echoes then– and now vivid faces will eventually turn into mirages or ghosts. It’s like I’m seeing my own eventual nostalgia- and those ghosts and those echoes make tonight’s voices and fingerprints and tears heavy with aliveness.
But don’t you see? (My soul asks me) In The Now there are no ghosts- that me in the future will still be me- those moments just as real. Surely– the moment will be different, but not lacking. The moment has meaning not because it will end (as it surely will), but because it is here now. And I think I am wrong about the ghosts and echoes, for that future empty table will have its own Being, just like piling up the ice had meaning, even though we knew (did we? did they even consider for a moment?) it would melt.
Now- even now!– table quiet or loud, chairs full or empty– this moment is calling you to wonder. And though I cannot escape bracing myself for loneliness, I’m reminded that I cannot escape from a universe that is filled with the wonder of being, as long as I am.