He Speaks To Everyone The Same Way

Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and one of the things that stands out to me as I think about my own father is how he has always spoken to everyone the same way. My mother used to point this out to me as a child every now and then, which helped me realise from an early age that, 1) this is important, and 2) it is not something everyone does. As I’ve grown older, my conviction of the truth of these two points has only grown stronger. 

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“Well, THAT was magic!”

When my second son was three, he didn’t walk—he marched. Everywhere. His stride may have been short, but it was full of confidence. I vividly remember the day he marched ahead of us into the grocery store, but had to pause as the automatic doors slid open. He watched them closely, then announced as a matter of fact: “Well, THAT was magic!” Then he marched through.

Was it magic? Not really. I know, and you know, and he knows now that he’s older, that automatic doors don’t operate on fairy dust. There is a mechanical, electrical explanation, and it all adds up and it all makes sense. Yes. But isn’t it amazing? The doors open themselves! It may not be magic in a technical sense, but isn’t there something magical about it?

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Every Corner Is Crowded

Last week, I stood in front of a barn in the woods in Alabama that no animals have ever lived in, but I lived in it. I was a child then, and my family lived there while our house was being built on the same property and that worked out pretty well for us. I hadn’t seen it for several years, but it still looks like a barn. At least, that’s all you would see. When I look at it, I see more. I see so much that my mind can hardly keep up. I could stand there all day and look around at the barn and the house and the trees and I could watch the river of scenes pass by for hours and hours because this is my place, this is where my life took root and grew up with the pecan trees that my father and grandfather planted. When I go back there now, I feel like I have to walk slowly because the place is so crowded with memories. The sweet and bitter and happy and sad and embarrassing are all jumbled up together—every step, every sight, every sound and smell is full of them.

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Capturing A Moment

The warm sunlight is filtering through the trees, there’s music in the air, and amid the bustle of the servers and the clink of the cutlery there’s a constant hum of lively conversation. I’m not there. I don’t even know where it is, but when I look at the painting of this scene that hangs over our mantle, I can hear it all. I can feel it all, and I love it. I love how the painting reminds me of moments like this one in real life, when I’ve been in seats like these with friends and family around me. I’m glad the artist captured this moment (wherever it was) and held on to it for me with his brush. I’m glad I found the print to hang in my house, to remind me of my own moments like these.

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The Places I Used To Pray

There’s a spot on a lonely quay beside a river where I used to go sometimes to pray. It’s in the middle of a town, but it’s quiet there because it’s not on the way to anything and there are prettier spots nearby if you’re going for a walk. I revisited that spot recently, a little older now than when I used to pray there. I feel the time that has flowed passed, like the water in the river, always flowing since before the Vikings founded the town in the first place. 

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The Ends and the Means

When we bought our first house, we bought it as-is. We knew that included the broken glass in the back door. We just counted that as part of the price. But someone we knew gave us different advice: she said we should wait a little while, then claim the window as damage on our new home insurance. 

Clearly, her plan had advantages. It had taken everything we had to get in the place. It was a miracle that we had been able to cover the bare concrete foundation with cheep flooring. To say the money would have helped is an understatement. And anyway, insurance companies are rich, right? They could hardly need it as much as we did.

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Being The Bad Guy

At our house, I’ve always been the bad guy. To be more precise, I’ve been a lot of bad guys. Sometimes it is just part of me, like when my hands became the Flying Tickle Spiders. Other times I’ve needed extra props, like the brown blanket for the times when the Muddy Hole Troll tried to trap my children in his muddy pit in a terrible plot to keep them filthy. In lightsaber fights, Sith Seth has always been the one threatening destruction and calling good little Jedis to join the dark side. Then there have been attacks from the electric Volt-ure who zapped children (disclaimer: no real electricity was involved) and the Alien Chef who has tried to make them into sandwiches between the beanbags. Our house has been a dangerous place. 

The thing is, all my terrible plots have ended in failure. I guess I’m not really that great at being an evil mastermind. Somehow, the children have always found a way to defeat me. Which is fine. Actually, I’m happy. I want the bad guys to lose, too. Yes, our house can be a dangerous place, but it is only silly danger, and my children can fight my evil plots with complete confidence of eventual victory. We just have fun together, and I hope they remember that. But I hope they remember more—I hope they hold on to that feeling of confidence, of knowing they will win eventually. They are growing up now, growing beyond the games and closer to the reality of the world, and here’s the thing: the world is a dangerous place.

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When I Lived In A Barn

I wasn’t born in a barn, but I did live in one for a while. My parents had bought some land in the country, and the barn went up fast. Construction of the house was slower, so we lived in the barn while it was being built. There was no insulation, and in most of the internal doorways we hung curtains instead of actual doors. I remember shaking my shoes out before I put them on in the morning to make sure there were no scorpions inside. I also remember being happy. Yes, we were roughing it in a lot of ways, living without a lot of normal conveniences, but life was good. When the house was finally finished and we moved in, it was nice to have fancy things like doors, but it didn’t change the basic dynamic that was already well-established: my parents had created a positive atmosphere, and that was the air I grew up in—it didn’t matter if I was breathing it in a barn with scorpions or a house with doors.

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The Day I Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut

I was in the passenger seat, and my friend was behind the wheel. At least, I wanted him to be my friend, if I could manage it. He was new on my dorm at university, and I was keen to be on good terms if at all possible. The trip was long enough for good conversations, but they weren’t happening the way I expected. My best questions were being answered with a few short words, and my most interesting conversational topics were slipping away like so many wet bars of soap. The trip had hardly begun and I was already struggling for something to say. Silence grew in the space between words. Suddenly, an inspiration: I saw a funeral home. 

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Sometimes The Best Way To Support Me Is To Thwart Me

Growing up, I was part of a Boy Scout Troop that met in an old converted house. I have a lot of good memories associated with that building, some of which stand out so vividly that I can almost smell the musty walls again—like the time the Scoutmaster told me that I had failed my Board of Review and would not be progressing to the next rank. Meanwhile, my friends passed. I can still taste the embarrassment of that moment, but today I count it as a good memory, along with all the victories and laughter of those years. The fact is, I earned that failure. I went in overconfident and underprepared, fully expecting to be the best of the bunch by just showing up. When they asked me about the things I was supposed to know, I didn’t. So I really did fail, and they let me. They could have bailed me out and given me the rank anyway to spare my feelings, but I’m glad they didn’t.

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