“THERE! THERE IT IS! I SEE IT I SEE IT!”
My daughter points to the night sky from the back deck of our house, leaping from the not-so-sturdy chair and knocking it over.
Then, a few moments later, my son jumps and claps: “I SEE IT ISEEIT!”
Both stand in front of my wife and me, eyes wide and jaws slack. Though the heavens above us are awash in sparkling dots and faint wisps of the Milky Way, I’m not paying much attention to stars. But I am paying attention to the two small people in front of me. I’ve seen my share of falling stars in my life, seen enough that I thought I didn’t need to watch any more. What was more beautiful, more compelling, was watching my children watch them.
They’ve heard of falling stars, of course. They are plentiful in their bedtime stories. They’ve shown up in most of their Disney movies. They’ve even drawn them with red and purple crayons on construction paper.
But they’ve never seen one. Not until tonight. Not until just now.
My children evoke in me the sort of emotions that one would normally expect from a parent. Love, of course. And joy. Pride and confidence and loyalty, too. But as I stare at them and bathe in their sense of awe, I find another emotion welling up inside of me:
I am rarely awed. Seldom wide-eyed and slack-jawed. And that is a shame because it is a blessing to be as such, and as often as possible. My kids are experts at awe. I am no longer.
It is life’s greatest irony that the young only desire to grow old, while the old only desire to grow young again. We’re never satisfied, us humans. We’re always either looking for what we think we don’t have or what we once had but never appreciated. My kids are adamant that they be treated as adults, believing that distinction renders them a certain freedom. Not true. They don’t know it, but right now they are as free as they will ever be.
Which is why I want to capture this moment, to bottle it in my mind and cork it tight so the memory doesn’t leak out. I want to sit on the back porch years from now and watch their children do this, and I want to tell them the story of when their mother or father saw their first falling star.
Because I suspect that by then my children’s awe will likely have faded just as mine has. They will have seen too much by then. Too much evil and hurt and violence. Too much bad. This world will jade them as it jades us all and make the edges of their hearts rough. The bright tints of magic and wonder in their eyes will be replaced by the grays and browns of knowledge. Time will force them to bite the proverbial apple, and they will be introduced to the true nature of life; far from the beautiful garden they see existence as now, it will undoubtedly turn into a valley of doubt and danger.
This is the price of living. One that demands the penance of our wonder.
There is no going back for them. For us all. “The first time’s a one time feeling,” says the song, and there is much truth in that. My children have just seen their first falling star, and that euphoric feeling that is rushing through them now won’t be there when they see the next.
But must it be this way? Must my children suffer through such an awakening? Must they grow into this world and sacrifice their wonder and awe to join the ranks of the rest of humanity?
For that matter, must I?
“Truly I say to you,” Jesus said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
A powerful warning. Yet while there is no doubt that I long to have the heart and eyes of my children, to experience the world as if I am seeing it for the first time, I can’t.
I’ve seen too much already.
But maybe that’s not the point. Christ doesn’t seem like the sort of God Who tells us to turn around and go back. No, He’s the sort of God Who turns us around and says, “No, it’s that way. You live forward, not back.”
I cannot see like my children. I cannot live like them. But I can become like them.
I can have their awe.
Not by seeing and living this day as if it were my first, but by seeing and living it as if it were my last.
To read more of Billy’s work, check out his blog, What I Learned Today.