That’s how I feel when I see this picture of my friends Gene and Allison, snapped at a L’Arche dance in July 2007. At the time, I’d been at L’Arche just over a month, and so, though we liked each other immediately, we were all relative strangers then.
When I look at this picture now, I take in the bright colors, the glad energy, the happy smiles. I take it all in, thinking, “God, we had no idea what was coming.”
We didn’t know how hard and how beautiful our life at L’Arche would be. We didn’t know that our hearts would be broken, over and over again. We didn’t know that, four years later, we’d have to say goodbye to Gene. We didn’t know that Allison would have to face cancer.
Yet, by the same token, we also didn’t know that Allison and I would become such close friends. We didn’t know that we’d be able to feel the end of Gene’s life, that we’d be so connected to him as to know, even from afar, when his earthly life was at an end. We didn’t know all that we would go through, but we also didn’t know all that would sustain us.
I’ve been babysitting for Allison’s young son this week as she goes to doctor’s appointments. And even though I’m clearly caring for him, there’s a way in which he’s also caring for me. His innate optimism is helping me (and Allison and her husband, Mike) to stay sane amidst an insane situation. And nowhere was that clearer to me than when I walked him to the park on a bitter-cold day to play on the swings. Allison had told me how much he loved the swings, but still, I wasn’t prepared for his reaction.
When I gathered him up and pushed him on the toddler swing, I saw such joyful innocence in every line of his face. He was lit up with laughter, cooing and babbling as he swung back and forth. It brought tears to my eyes, this little boy whose mom didn’t know if she’d live to see him grow up, beaming at me.
As I pushed, I felt a lump in my throat, but I sang to him with the same freedom I’d felt as I sang to Gene the last time I saw him. But instead of a song of farewell, I sang a chorus of contentment from Dido’s song, “Us 2 Little gods”.
Just this day, I need no other. Just this life, I need no more.
Just this moment, let it all stop here. Let it all stop here, I’ve had my fill.
And I could see that this little boy’s happiness — like Allison and Gene’s in the photo — was based upon the sufficiency of the present moment. He imagined no future sorrow, anticipated no future joy. He was simply present, glad to be alive and swinging. You can consider this naive and thoughtless, if you like. For my part, I consider it a kind of wisdom that, as we grow, we all-too-easily forget.
Perhaps this is what it means to become like little children … to let the present illumine us.
To let our cup run over even in a world of loss and pain.
To realize that, as Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The tragedy of life is not so much what we suffer, but rather what we miss.”
And that was the gift a little child gave me: a return to the present, where, despite a world of suffering without and within, I wasn’t missing anything at all.
Eventually, I had to lift the little boy out of the swing. (He cried, hating that we had to go.) We walked home through the cold, and my hands were numb, my face frozen. But my heart?
My heart beat stronger than before.
What helps you to stay present? Tell me in the comments! I love hearing your sharings and insights.
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