The kids were running around in the yard, making up games, chasing each other, tossing their stuffed animals into the air and catching them. It was overcast, but warm. The sky gray, the trees green, the air slightly thick with humidity. Micah and I watched them from chairs near the fire pit and felt the moment settle into our brains, find a cozy place, and relax.
This. This was it. This was what we want, and wanted, and hope for forever and ever. Our kids, together. Laughing, playing in the great outdoors. The sun setting, the fireflies beginning to warm up. No schedule to keep, no people to please. Space to spread out, space enough that you have to yell to be heard but you don’t have to worry about bothering the neighbors, about getting yelled back at for being too loud.
And even while the moment made a home in our heads, it was an invader, an anomaly—something out of the ordinary. It is true that summer nights with just the right temperature and just the right amount of freedom (no work, no obligations the next day) are somewhat rare. But ours would normally be spent in the park with a hundred other families, or on our balcony with only the puny green trees across the street and our mini garden growing in planter boxes giving the illusion of “nature.”
Months ago, before our little baby was born, I sat chatting with my midwife about . . . life. About how, with all of the possibilities, we somehow find something to do and we do it. She said she thought it was a wonder that people aren’t just paralyzed by all the other things they could be doing at any given moment. Important things, fun things, “life’s work” kinds of things and “life’s play” kinds of things. Somehow we make decisions and we move forward, leaving all the others behind in the box with barely a backward glance.
It doesn’t feel like a choice most of the time. We have obligations, expectations, other people depending on us. Our choice seems made for us. We’ve put ourselves on a track through our choices and if they have been good choices, and we have been lucky, the track we are on is beautiful and comfortable and challenging and we rarely think that maybe there could be another one that is better.
But occasionally we get a view of one that seems like it might be better. It might be easier. It might lead to somewhere more interesting. And then we have to wonder how we got to here.
The days and the years slide by quickly now. It’s hard not to think that there are “only” nine more summers before Manchild will likely be leaving home and stepping into his own life. Our life will probably change a lot before then, and after then as well. He’ll be part of those changes, but they may not all be part of him.
Will he remember the perfect summer nights? The ones where we lost time, shed space, and just were? Where we gazed at the stars, searched for the fireflies, chased the tiny pinpricks of light and saw them swell so that we knew how small we were?
Will he hear the laughter and remember the warmth of the night air in years to come?
How did we get to this place? Where spacious summer nights were a special treat to be enjoyed only once or twice a year? Did we do the right thing? Are we doing the right thing?
I got off track. I forgot about the people. The brave people we see, we know, we are inspired by everyday—people who are doing hard things and trying new things and working hard and doing good work. The strangers who give us kind words—words of advice and encouragement—and helping hands.
I forgot about the resourcefulness. The challenges. The determination it takes to figure out how to live here. The puzzles to be solved and accepted and lived with every day.
I forgot about how we get to absorb that energy, and put it back into the world with our own stamp on it. How strangers smile at the kids playing together on the train. How they are happy—or at least willing—to give up a seat for us. We get to serve in little ways, and we get that service back as well.
And even if it feels crowded sometimes, and even if there is never enough time, and even when it seems like there is too much to see and do and hear and feel, it is a blessing to be able to see and hear and feel so much.
And also. When we step back and step away—far away—into the green, gray night, thick with humidity and the sound of children playing . . . time stands still. And maybe it doesn’t matter so much that this is a rare occurrence—that we only get to spread our arms this wide and run this fast a few times a year.
Because when time stands still, a moment is all you need.