The bee nestles into the Hosta’s lily, drinking up Noah’s newest word, “nectar.” He climbs the cream piston and momentarily disappears behind the gentlest purple petals before flying to the next. We look for him every day. Noah will ask for him as we walk to the backyard, into our friend’s “secret garden,” toiled and seeded by a landscape architect maybe forty years prior, and looking lovely and wild today. We walk to the koi pond, too, and look for the fishies (a delight, especially, when I pick him up for better vantage). We see the orange ones most, but sometimes the white and black ones slide just below the surface, lifting their open lips to kiss the surface quick before leveling back down like a submarine, and we revel in it as a special pleasure.
These are his simple joys. Every day he shows the same robust joy at the growing expectancy to see his creature friends. And the rocks and the seeds and the walnuts, too. I admit, it is hard to set my phone aside and enjoy it in the same way. I feel the press to check in on all the world, even though I always feel wearied with all it has to say. Why not choose two or three authors, I ask, and read them and say enough? That is a sound plan, I reply, and promptly open my phone to the same sea of voices. But I’m trying to go slower. Trying to put down the phone and see the world like Noah, new and the same every day.
I heard a quote from G. K. Chesterton on a podcast the other day, and I love it every time I hear it.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
What a speculation. That the monotony is intentional and an undiluted strain of faithfulness, the Father never neglecting the daisies or the sun or the moon, and we never neglecting to drink in creation’s praise and pour it back out.
Lately I have been thinking, and maybe you have, too, about observation and being present. First, the most plaguing question, because we worry it over ourselves: what happens to a life that loses its wonder? And reader, I’m not wholly sure, but think there must be many answers to that, shaped in every way to the contours of its asker. A lot of us feel stuck here. We know exactly how we aren’t present, and the question isn’t as helpful as we want it to be. So then our second question, which we hold with hope: what happens to a life that retains it? Holds fast to this child-like attention to every day – the way my boy stretches his hand toward the ceiling each morning, in every room, and says, “fan!” so that I’ll turn it on and he can watch it spin to life?
Observation brings us to a reckoning. In innumerable, specific ways, it shows us the truth. It drops my head into my hands when a Montessori game goes awry and little man is dropping fists of dried noodles on the ground. Ah, so when the going gets tough, you breathe through your nose like a bull. The rub – that patience is the punchline of this quiet life. The observing is not meaning in itself, but a clearer view of where our meaning is found.
Poetry expresses these things better, though. We know the litany of a life (and we read it in paragraphs mostly). Give us some pizzazz; then we can drink it. So here’s our Emily Dickinson, with the words and drunk on nature, noticing and declaring that “When landlords turn the drunken bee / Out of the foxglove’s door, / When butterflies renounce their drams, / I shall but drink the more!” Keep on, my friends, the noticing is hard and worthy.
Our boy has lately been picking up on all kinds of phrases and meanings. The other week we had just finished watching his favorite show when I clicked the screen off. He stared mournfully from the tv to me. “Watch the news?” he asked, pointing.
The associations are delightful, too. Uncle Aaron is paired with lawnmower. Grandpa with piano. Daddy with the baby monitor – because he spoke over it late one night to calm our boy's cries, and it about scared the little life out of him. It is funny though (the associations, not the scaring-the-life-out-of). It’s like seeing your family as tv characters, where everyone has one thing they’re most known for, where usually we feel so complex. He makes all his observations and then crowns the beloved family member with the thing that stands out above the rest.
I don’t think I’ve ever written on writing, mainly because it feels pretentious and also because it might not serve my reader, so I shy away. But maybe you would be interested. Every vocation calls to the others in similar ways, the echo meeting rings of its own chorus. Writing is not unique unto itself.
Annie Dillard taught me that writing is not for nothing. She says to “aim at the chopping block, not at the wood” (The Writing Life), stressing the necessity of both meaning and writing, but the inherent danger of a misplaced eye – namely, on writing. It is hard to adhere to this. I have lost a few fingers by it, or at the very least, the portion of my brain where peace is stored. Write what is good. What is true. What makes a life something more than breath. It is easy to peddle hot air when the world loves a good hot air balloon. Isn’t this all of our lives, anywhere? Observe the truth and do not leave it.
I will not say there is much eternity in the Hosta’s resident bee or the fan that will last another decade or so, though my son will glee in them until we leave. But the noticing will draw our hearts into greater things, which I do believe will last.