Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beauty and Grace

Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.
—Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Toys with lots of pieces are a mother’s curse. They never stay in the box they are supposed to, they seem to be in the places most likely to be stepped on, and the most important piece is always the one that is missing. But recently my son has been playing with a set of pattern blocks and causing me to re-think all that I hate about multi-pieced toys.

The beauty of pattern blocks is that it doesn’t matter if one is missing; you can always make some kind of design no matter which seemingly random assortment you have in front of you. In the chaos after our move, I imagine there is something soothing for my son about sitting quietly in his room on the floor, adding one piece and then another and another until all are used up. And where once was a jumbled pile of colored shapes, there is instead something orderly and beautiful. It is a small way of setting things right.

My daughter had her own way of setting things right when she was younger. As a toddler, she would sit inside a pop-up tent and narrate stories that always included elements of surprise that she would re-live over and over, usually in the unexpected but delightful arrival of her friend Elmo. And over and over she would exclaim with joy that he had come to see her, that he could laugh so nicely, that he was such a good friend.

This holiday as I have enjoyed family reunions and rooms full of kids, the thing that stays with me is how they are able to simply be there, as Annie Dillard would say. They are able to see patterns and meaning where I see incompleteness and missing pieces. They are able to find joy in the ever-recurring presence of those they love most. They are alive to beauty and grace. And my new year’s wish is that somehow, like them, I will learn to simply be there.

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