The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Kahlil Gibran
Twenty-five years ago, when I was an aspiring motivational speaker, I used to quote from a little book called Children’s Letters to God in my presentations:
- Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother. Larry
- Dear God, Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? Noma
- Dear God, Is it true my father won’t get into Heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house? Anita
I no longer remember how I used the quotes, only that they made me and the audience laugh. I loved how insightful the kids were. The way they asked such interesting questions about objects and situations that we adults accept without a second thought. The way they notice the smallest details, the most minute inconsistencies, especially with their parents’ behavior. How they take nothing for granted and wonder about everything.
When I bought the book all those years ago, I hadn’t yet been irrevocably marked and reshaped by death, having lost only grandparents, one before I was born. I even didn’t take note of the handful of poignant questions sprinkled throughout the book. The little girl who wanted know why God didn’t allow the people he’d made to keep living instead of letting them die, which meant he’d have to make more. The little boy who wondered why people had to die at all. The other little girl who wished God wouldn’t “make it so easy for people to come apart” after she needed stitches.
As adults, we wander from our childlike wonder, taking so much for granted as we feed our desire for more, more, more. We get too busy to be curious, no longer pausing long enough to question or examine what’s right in front of us. We overlook beauty and fail to appreciate the magic of everyday life. We fill our time to the brim, leaving ourselves little to no space to enjoy who and what is all around us. We suppress our desire for the activities and pursuits that gives us pleasure and makes life meaningful.
How many time have I looked up from my work, only to notice a three foot high tom turkey looking in the patio door or a wild well-fed jack rabbit climbing over the granite rock outcropping in the backyard? Only then to wonder about how much else I must have missed.
It takes a lot to let go of tasks and to do lists, deadlines and daily drama. We are so good at blocking time on our calendar for everything we think we must do yet so reluctant to preserve time for reading, reflecting or letting our mind wander. For some of us, it can take a lot to break that trance. A depression or diagnosis. The end of a relationship. The loss of a job, a home, a child.
We spend our grownup lives knotting ourselves into a ball about so many things that don’t matter or will never come to pass. A harsh comment from someone whose opinion we don’t respect or care about. The big deal that turns out not to be. The relationship that doesn’t break. The disaster that never happens.
As an adult, navigating life without one of my children and both of my parents, I feel more and more like these curious kids. Struck by the realization of how much time I spend making mountains out of molehills and realizing how much there is that I do not understand. Why my son had to die. Why the death of one of your essential people doesn’t protect you from losing another one. The way it’s possible to laugh even in the midst of being broken by grief. How much remains that makes life worth living, even after the worst has happened.
More and more, I am finding joy in the details now. The scent of homemade garlic bread as Dan removes it from the oven. The text from our dear friend Howard saying he’s coming for a visit from New Zealand. Winter rain dancing on the roof. The way a single shard of light, breaking through the dark gray storm clouds, reminds me that the sun is still there. Look up, it seems to say. Warm your face. Remember how good it feels to be alive.