And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. Roald Dahl
Each day, be amazed . . . be entranced by the wonder of the Universe. Mary Southard
This wasn’t my normal reaction to a traffic jam. And traffic jam was an understatement for the barely- creeping-forward mess my husband Cam and I found ourselves in last Sunday as the sun sunk down over the Cascades. We were heading back to the Seattle Airport in the early evening hours after a four-day Thanksgiving visit in Moscow, Idaho with our two sons, their wives and our two-and-a-half-year-old grandson Viren when all of a sudden we found ourselves in a standstill on the interstate ninety miles east of the Sound. As darkness fell over the mountains, the cars, crammed together in gridlock, suddenly came alive for me. I know it sounds crazy to adult ears, but it’s all I could see. License plates became toothy white grins, rear headlights squinted and stared and blinked back at me, pieces of chrome and knobby handles transformed themselves into eyebrows and noses and ears. It was a wild ride, this-ten-mile-an-hour slink over the mountain pass, a Car Story adventure as good as any video that a two-year-old might watch after a busy day. And I knew it was the influence of the two-year-old playmate I’d been hanging out with causing havoc with my adult perception as I looked forward into the never-ending sea of car-faces in front of us — but why fight it, I thought. It’s a lot more fun playing this game than seething and swearing and steaming over like an overheated engine.
It’s a lot more fun playing all sorts of games with a two-and-a-half-year-old. When you are two-and-a-half, your imagination is lit up and you’ve developed the language skills to share this lively way of seeing the world with those around you. So, that’s what we did, Grandma and Viren, we played — on Thanksgiving afternoon, while Grandpa mixed up the stuffing and one son smoked the turkey and the other mashed the potatoes, while daughter-in-laws roasted squash and cauliflower and made the salads, we found our way outdoors to a land of crisp northern Idaho sunshine and make-believe. “Hi kids, I’m Harry Bunny!” Viren pronounced, taking his cue from a favorite TV show and looking out over the hedge of cedar bushes at the yard in front of him. And I, marching behind and following his lead, added, “And I’m Grandma Bunny, and we’re here to show you kids a good time.” And then, we did. We showed those kids out there in imaginary land a rip-roaring good time. We marched our way around that yard, from birch tree to newly-planted apple to reeds of Idaho grass and we cupped our hands and we took turns saying, “Look kids, we’ve found a gift for you!” And then, curious about the gifts ourselves, we asked each other, “What is it?!?” Sometimes it was a lion that was cupped in our hands; other times it was a star that we flung high in the sky. And I could almost see it, the star we flung high. And I could almost hear it, that lion that roared its mighty roar and lived in a rock planted out near the road.
All weekend, we played. We adults pulled our inner two-and-a-half-year-olds out of the basement closets, ignited our adult-sleepy imaginations and saw the world anew as we bumbled our way through the crowds at the local department store on Black Friday, oohing and awing and stopping to admire each and every decorated tree. And later, it was with the glittering eyes of a child that we gazed up at the four eagles circling above us as we traipsed around the reservoir on crusty frozen ground. And when it snowed the next morning, the first real snow of the year in this northern Idaho town, it wasn’t hard to look out at those huge clumped-together flakes falling from the sky and feel a sense of wonder. And I know that all of us sensed it later in the day, the hushed holiness in an old-growth forest covered by new snow, as we hiked along a hilly trail just miles from town.
And what would it be like to make it a practice, this way of seeing the world fresh and new and filled with the delightful and the unexpected ? I wonder what gifts we’d find in our ordinary moments. And that’s what it seemed like, a sweet and ordinary game that Viren and I were playing on Sunday morning as we stared out into the back lawn and told each other what we were seeing. “I see the blue blue sky,” I said. “I see the big tree,” Viren added. Back and forth, we went, describing this snow-covered sparkling world of matter behind his house. And then it was Viren’s turn. “I see an angel,” he said and squinted his eyes to take in the details. “And he has black curly hair and bushy eyebrows. He has glasses and looks kind of like Daddy.” He then went on to say what he was wearing but I didn’t get it all. I was trying to stay matter-of-fact, like it was an ordinary thing to see an angel in your back yard. “Oh,” I said. “I think it might be your Great Grandpa Ernie.” And then the game continued. “I see my bike and the wheelbarrow and Daddy’s white bucket.”
This week back home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I am consciously trying to take a cue from Viren, to soften my eyes and deepen my breath and open myself to the possibility of an angel in my own back yard. And yesterday morning, as I drank down my vitamin-packed elixir, I happened to glance out there, to the yard behind the house, to the white pines and the sparkling snow and there it was, scooting across the lawn, something I’d never seen before. It was foot or so long, and skinny and furry and white with a little black mark on its perky tail. It was a weasel shooting over to a hole in the snow by the bird feeder. And to me, it seemed like an angel, something magical and unexpected and filled with delight.