Small beauties

I read a book to my children, called “Small Beauties,” and started tearing up right in the middle, much to their amusement.

The book talks about a little girl in the midst of the Irish potato famine who was a “noticer.” She would dawdle in her work to notice the magpie flying, to stare at castles in the clouds, to examine a moss-covered rock. Her family was always yelling at her, saying things like, “Castles? Clouds? MILK THE COW, NOW!”

Later in the story, poverty sets in, their house burns down and they are forced to immigrate. Sitting in the dank darkness of a cellar in New York, she opens the hemline of her dress and brings out all the small beauties she collected in Ireland: a moss-covered rock, her grandmother’s burnt rosary bead, a wilted flower. The cellar is momentarily transformed by the small beauties she noticed and gathered back home.

I could not help but remember the little girl from the story when I noticed a baby robin who had dropped from her nest while practicing flying around my backyard.

I was with my middle child and together we foolishly began following the bird, who panicked and left my backyard. Still, we continued to follow it, until we lost sight of it. Then I started panicking, wondering if the baby robin will find her way home, or will a squirrel will get to her first?

Sometimes it seems that my mere existence encourages the death of others. Something somewhere is dying because I am up and breathing.

Then, I notice the mother robin hovering with a worm in her beak, flying this way and that in panic looking for her baby. We headed back home, hopeful that her mother will save her. Maybe.

The next day as I lay in bed forlorn and sad, I looked out of my window, which always makes me feel as if I live in the clouds. Our backyard slopes downwards and the neighboring homes are built further down the slope so that my window has an extended view of the sky, clouds, and trees. Lying on my stomach feeling the density of my sadness, I gazed unfocused outside, until a cardinal flew into my line of vision.

A cardinal! In the gray landscape of the skies that day, the cardinal was a brilliant flash of red. He flew around for a bit and then settled on the neighbor’s chimney for me to watch and admire from a distance. That cardinal lifted my heart, a tiny bit. The density shifted a little within.

Later, my husband dragged me out to the neighborhood park for a walk with the kids. My baby girl was squealing as she dangled face-forward in the carrier, my oldest son wobbly on his skates pushing off the concrete trail with his blades, and my middle child flying by on his scooter.

We went off the path to a serene corner of the lake. We’ve been there a few times. It feels like a quiet home away from home. Even the baby hushed instinctively as we approached. We stopped our chatter to take in the heavy, summer evening songs of crickets, random honking of geese, and let our minds wander over the stillness of our surroundings.

That a stretch of fine lake can lie so unmolested in the thick summer heat, that I can come back over and over again to savor this momentary peace, fluttered my heart and shifted my sadness again. The children threw rocks and my husband and I watched the ripples they created.

My oldest son murmured “vibrations” as he watched the circles go wider and wider in the water and I looked at him sideways, marveling at the connections he is making everyday. Marveling at how little I ever have to “teach” him. If I can just approach him from this sideways glance, if I can always look at his growth and the unfolding of his own wisdom without chasing it away in my panic, then maybe, just maybe, I can make this journey a little easier for him.

We head back up the steep trail to the concrete path. I carry my oldest son on my back, since it is easier than him trying to make his way with his blades on rocky terrain. From the bottom, I felt like I was making my way straight up to the sky. With a load on my back, I could do nothing but focus on one step at a time, feeling every muscle in my legs, arms and back work.

My husband warned me to put him down, making my son shift and giggle in excitement. My middle child whined to be carried too. The baby squealed louder than the others. But, I shut them all out and focused on each step, my eyes shifting from ground to sky as I walked.

As we inched forward, I was surprised to find myself enjoying the strain. Sweat breaking on my forehead, muscles working hard. The tight outline of my son’s body against my back, and his legs long – ever so long. When did he grow up? We finally made it to the top, my husband following with grudging admiration.

In the gathering twilight, we headed down to the busy stretch of the lake and saw two bikers, some people fishing at the dock, two children playing nearby. We found our way to some rocks to sit and enjoy the darkening skies for a bit.

I took a few pictures of the children, profiles outlined against lake, rocks, trees. As we got up to leave, I noticed how dramatically the skies were blushing – crimson and pink clouds hiding the setting sun, yet also announcing its farewell with pomp and circumstance.

We headed back home singing along to our children’s CD. I wondered at my mind then, how stormy it had been just a few hours before, how heavy and dark it had felt all day. I wasn’t exactly happy now, but I felt a deep abiding acceptance of all that is.

And I thought maybe, just maybe, acceptance suffices after all.

Maliha Balala is an incredibly blessed mama of three, charting her own way through dangerous waters and playing with her children in the lush meadows of life.