Can I tell you something? I’m a bit obsessed with something. I can’t stop taking pictures of light. Here’s the thing: once you start, it’s really hard to stop. Because that light is everywhere. And it’s beautiful.
Sometimes it can feel so hard to get at the light – both real, actual light, and its glorious metaphoric blaze, to feel it on my face, and let it seep into my heart, that it becomes this wild goose chase. Other times, even with my closed eyes I can see the afterimages dancing in my mind.
There was the Sunday a few weeks back when the kids moaned and groaned at our plan to head out on a hike. But we fought through it, we chased that light, hopeful for something magic. Ignoring the protests, Mark and I put our heads down and focused on the goal as we planned our route, prepared for the adventure. It is not a surprise when things don’t start smoothly: Griffin’s coat doesn’t zip properly, Renee is hungry already. Grant only wants to throw the football and has little interest in the actual trail. But eventually, eventually, something breaks through. The magic is there. Fresh air, sunshine: light. Dancing off the creek in ripples reflected on the rocks. We lay in the middle of the bridge, all of us, legs and arms slack, lifting our faces to the sun, ordained for something bigger. That was light.
Sometimes it harder, more elusive. There was the day off from school when I took the kids to the botanical gardens around here that has been a favorite place for countless years. Especially at this time of year, it often feels like a shot of serotonin to the brain, and exactly the light that I was seeking after a weekend of refereeing a few too many squabbles. But it’s work to get there, right? Work to fight against the lack of momentum, to convince the kids that this is a good plan, to get out of pajamas and into clothes. It is work to pack lunches and fill the gas tank. I’m willing to put in the work, certainly, in search of this light. But I want the promise that it’s going to pay off.
So we do the work, we find our hats and coats, decide to forgo the stroller. Grant bites his lip in the parking lot, and the whole thing is unravelling before it’s even begun. Most of the day goes that way: the kids are less taken by the flowers, more interested in the snacks that I didn’t bring. The fountains that the kids look forward to splashing in aren’t entirely functioning properly. The flowers don’t bloom in me like I thought they would. By the time lunch rolls around, Griffin is torn to pieces about sharing his ketchup. We are all spent. As I drove the windy country roads home, I asked myself if it was worth it, and I came up short of a good answer. We work, we strive, we pack lunches, we wear sensible shoes, and still: sometimes, there is no light.
Maybe it’s not something I can create. I can’t chase light, or magic, or glory, or hallelujah. I can’t say magic words, pray the right prayer, to get at what it is that I’m seeking.
I can only receive it. I have to be paying attention. Open my eyes. Not focused specifically, hunting out the treasure, but open to see it when it is there.
Sometimes it’s easier to see light only against the shadows. Sometimes it’s only seen in the negative space.Can there be light in the ordinary, the not-so-spectacular? Griffin routinely throws typical three-year-old tantrums about his breakfast in the morning. I’m sure I’ve cut his toast in the wrong shape, or put his water cup in the wrong place. Often, he just doesn’t want the toast that he’s just asked for, but instead wants yogurt. Whatever it is, it so ordinary, so not glorious, and certainly of the make-me-pull-my-hair-out variety of parenting episodes. So it goes with most of us: Renee takes forever to get out of bed, needing jiggling, reminding, pleading and coercing to the point that we are almost late for life.
Or what about light in the harder parts of parenting, the ones that aren’t so much pull-your-hair-out, but more a squeeze to the heart, a blow to the gut? As the kids grow, so do their struggles. It’s not as easy as fixing an incorrectly cut piece of toast. Learning how to encourage without pushing, how to support but not hold too tightly, how to love, fiercely and deeply without condition or praise. Much of it is about balance, and that is only found in the unbalance, like water seeking its level. This can sometimes look like shadows, dancing and larger than life. Those shadows make me turn my head, though, to look for the light that shines behind the shapes, or glows over the edges.
Sometimes light doesn’t come in a blaze, but it softer, gauzier.
Light can look like this: the typical tight squeeze of the five of us in our ten-year-old station wagon driving home from an evening of errands. Through the poking and pinching, a song comes on, one the kids know and love, a family “anthem” of sorts, though nothing about is child-like or typical. Mark reaches for the dial, and our car is pounding, dancing, jolting, and we each sing along, every single one of us, at the top of our lungs. Mark leans over to my ear, whispering “This. This is what memories are made of.” And with that ordination for that ordinary moment, light blazed in glory. I see it.
It’s jumping on the trampoline, again all five of us, nearly diving into each other, bouncing and tripping and squealing and laughing. I dare you: just try to this without a smile. The freedom of flying, the view from the top of the bounce, and that unpredictable double bounce: that is what light feels like.
These are the unexpected moments, the light not chased after, but simply witnessed. It’s the light at the end of the driveway, waiting for the bus, discovering new tracks – deer, rabbit, fox, and investigating them each. It’s a 5:30 in the morning snuggle in bed with Griffin, who sees the neighbor’s far away lights through the trees and calls them fireflies. It’s the light that slants on the kitchen cabinets, just under a sink full of dirty dishes. It’s the light of the sunrise – sometimes elusive, the almost-light of a new day turning more gray than exalting. Some are extraordinary, fifty seven stories high, glinting off the Delaware River, the blank slate of a new day.
You have to see it for yourself – the light just behind the crest of the hill, barely visible, just a hint of glow. It’s the light inside the oven when you’re baking a loaf of bread, it’s the birthday candles that usher in the next year. It’s the sun setting on the cow field across the street from school. It’s the stars punched through the black velvet sky getting into the car late at night – connecting the dots, drawing constellations, Orion’s Belt, the Big Dipper, right there before your very eyes.
Sometimes, though, we have to go ahead and make our own light. Pull out the candlesticks and set the matches to them. Plug in the twinkle lights that you thought you were putting away after Christmas, but you see the wisdom in keeping them around.
It’s light inside, and light out.
The light is everywhere. It’s pervasive, seeping into the drudgery of daily life. It’s the work of being in this world, seeing it for the truth it is, and bringing that truth into the light. It’s the ordinary transformed into extraordinary. And it’s beautiful.
“These days you might feel a shaft of light (light) make it’s way across your face
When you do, you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true, you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you”
10,000 Maniacs, These are Days