“They’re acting like a$$es.”
This is what I told my husband in a quick, condemning whisper during the few seconds our four kids were more than an arm’s length away from us on the hiking trail. I’m not proud of my words, it’s not language I use often, especially in reference to my kids. But I want you to know just how bad it was.
Our long-awaited vacation had arrived, and I was ready for us to be happy, grateful and relaxed. I had bought into the cultural myth of the “happy family vacation” – the ones you see in pictures, where siblings with smiling faces stand with their arms carelessly cast around each other’s shoulders in front of a serenely setting sun. I’d forgotten how new spaces – even welcome, joyfully anticipated ones – unsettle carefully orchestrated family dynamics. I’d forgotten how anticipation often equals heightened expectations. I’d forgotten how hard family vacations can be.
And so, we found ourselves rumbling down a hiking trail like a gang of hangry bears. Kids fought, picked, and climbed on top of each other. They complained about the hike, the heat, their siblings. The words, “stop hanging on me,” “stop fighting,” “keep walking,” shot from my mouth on an endless loop. I believe, at one point, I announced, “If you don’t stop fighting, we’re going to walk the rest of the way single-file, in silence.”
That is, nothing worked until we jostled around a bend in the trail and noticed a doe standing in a clearing at the forest’s edge. “Look, a deer,” someone announced.
We turned and acknowledged the sight. Our walking and talking slowed. Someone noticed the flicker of a white tail just inside the forest’s shade. “There’s another deer in the woods. Look. See it?” One, by one, we paused and pointed, waiting for the flash of a white flag in the shaded forest’s deep green.
“Maybe it’s a fawn,” someone suggested.
Then, my husband added, “I bet, if we kneel down, it might come out.”
The six of us fell to our knees without argument or question. We knelt, facing the open field, crouched within arm’s reach of each other. Silence descended, save for a few whispered questions and observations. After a few minutes, the second deer tip-toed silently from the woods and we saw they were about the same size – likely a set of twins on their way to the lake for an evening drink.
There was no arguing, no complaining, no pushing or shoving. The agitation of the heat, the bugs, the siblings vanished.
“Maybe, if we’re quiet, they’ll come closer,” someone suggested.
We waited and watched the deer who waited and watched us. We spoke in whispers and the deer carried on their own conversation with flickering tails and cautious movements forward and back.
Those deer did what I could not do. Stirring up holy curiosity and wonder, they pulled us together and brought us to our knees. Divisions eradicated, we found ourselves stunned into a unity of awe.
And so I pray for moments of curiosity and wonder to descend on our deeply divided world. That we would stop our fruitless chiding and bickering and fall to our knees. That we would learn to whisper questions and work in unison that the hope of the holy drawing near would be our unifying desire.
Nothing else seems to be working.