They were soft to the touch – edges pronounced just enough to lightly tickle the prints of his index finger – it felt good. L - i - g - n - u - m - V - i - t - a - … what was it? The last letter disappeared into the wood. It looked like a small capital E but it was hard to make out. The full fall moon cast just enough light through the unsuspecting window – its panes too preoccupied with the crisp autumn air and intermittent gales. “It’s gotta be an e”, the boy thought, tracing again over the swirling inscription. “Is this what it’s like to be blind?” Shhhhwooshhhh-shwooshhh-shwooooooooshhhhhhhhh. The night was whispering secrets; the house an ever vigilant witness and its frame a makeshift instrument for the passing wind. “Strong wood, Ironwood”, his father’s voice boomed off the walls, announcing his entrance as he and his mother pushed ajar the bedroom door, their shadows consuming what was left of the fading inscription.
“Now that you’re older we wanted to give you your own bed.” His mother’s voice was gentle and matter of fact. “Which reminds me, it’s already 10 minutes past your bedtime; in you go.”
“Just because today is my birthday, it doesn’t make me any older than I am on any other given day. I’m just one day older, like always.” He was being flippant, yet his words rang true in his head: what made today so special? He didn’t feel any older.
“And how does it feel to be 8?”, asked his Mother. She was accustomed to his banter and brushed it off effortlessly.
He would not be pacified so easily. “Why do they call it Ironwood, is it iron, or is it wood?” Practiced in delaying his eminent bedtime, a tactician in the art of filibustering, alas, he was no match for his father, who swiftly met his insolence by lifting him over the Ironwood frame and tucked him into bed. The boy began to wonder about the bed, a majestic, almost powerful frame built of strong sturdy wood. The headboard was an inordinate slab, yet simple; the inscription was the bed’s only detail – its signature. It was a gift from his Grandfather, who he hardly knew.
“We love you, father, by your grace alone. For just as a child, who buys a gift for his father with the allowance that he has been given, we seek to serve you by the gifts that you have graced us with.” It was an odd thing to hear, his own father praying to a mutual father. “And what about my Grandfather, is he also my brother?”, the boy wondered.
“And in Jesus’s name, Amen.” Almost synchronously, his mother began humming a lullaby, softly, brushing his hair as he fell deeper into his bed. Suddenly his dog hopped up, accustomed to sleeping with him, and after circling a few times he settled and curled at the boy’s feet.
“What is love?”, the boy asked. He could feel the rhythm of the dog’s breath and warmth pumping from the heart of the animal into the sheets below. It was pleasant, under the sheets. “I am the source of this furnace”, he thought, “my own energy comforts me.” In his reverie, he heard his father’s voice.
“Rest child, you are weary”
Warming rays broke the dawn with such vibrance that the exuberance of the earth itself was nothing more than the deposition of the sun’s lifeforce. The rays alighted upon an energetic grove, towering in its brilliance, and standing just ahead of the boy. As if in agreement with the earth, the light caught his eye off the reflection of a dirt path tucked neatly between two magnificent sequoias. And indeed, he was not alone. His faithful companion ran ahead, his tongue flapping out the side of his mouth – the fearless flagship.
Together they ran with vigor, effortlessly, full of joy and childlike wonder. The woods were alive; trees were fluttering with the sounds of birds. The earth, painted delicately with thin brush stroke streams, teemed with life, and they were a part of it all. As they raced in deeper the path began to fade, and faithful though he was, seemingly, his companion began to stray. “He moves carelessly, as if blindly guided by the whims of his nose and the scents of the earth”, the boy noted. The dog began to passionately dig at the ground, as if the greatest treasure was buried below. “And how reckless, where is his tact!?” As if in response, the dog paused, and gently pushed his nose down into the upturned soil, and in a moment he pulled it away to sneeze. “And for what, he just made a mess?”, the boy thought, as he watched the dog bound off again with the same inertia and reckless abandonment as before. “Why does the dog dig, and cover its nose with dirt and dust?” Deep in thought, the boy was slowing his pace; catching hold of his foot by an exposed root, the ground met him swiftly, and without remorse.
Slightly dazed, the boy lifted himself back up, spitting dirt from his mouth and wiping his face clean. Something was stuck in his eye, and it irritated him tremendously. Up ahead he noticed the flagship had set sail and was deftly lapping up the water of a fresh spring. Aggravated, the boy stumbled over to the spring and knelt down to wash his face. The coolness of the water met him pleasantly as he flushed his eye. After a few moments passed, the dog off sniffing a row of thickets on the far bank of the spring, the water began to settle. Looking down through dampening ripples, the boy noticed his own reflection, and focusing on his newly washed eye he began to ponder.
“If my eye and mind use reflection to see, then what does it mean to look at a reflection?” The sun was high in the sky, and, peering down through the canopy above, it was shining brightly and continuously on the spring below. “When is a reflection of a reflection the source?” Thinking thus, the boy’s attention was drawn to a leaf falling gently in front of his face and into the water below; the landing was so soft, almost silent. The graceful setting did, however, cause perturbation, emanating out a new set of tiny waves across the surface of the water – a ripple effect. Following the frontrunning wave, the boy’s eyes were drawn to the reflection of the leaf’s source, a magnificent tree inconspicuously spread across the expanse of the spring, quietly tucked behind his own reflection. “How had I not noticed before!” With new joy abounding in his heart, and with energy sparked by the tree’s great stature, the boy inverted. He was skilled in the art of balancing on his head, and now his expertise lent him new perspective towards the beautiful image. With his eyes closer to the water’s edge, the ripples were more pronounced. As each wave flickered the rays of the ever glowing sun, the tree’s reflection danced across the surface of the water, handling each wave in turn with tolerance and grace. Squinting, the boy focused on two shadows taking part in the evanescent dance.
“Who are they?” They boy flipped back upright and turned to bask in the glory of the image’s source. The tree was breathtaking, a microcosm of the forest – a hidden ecosystem and habitat for two graceful birds to enjoy. Delicately hopping from branch to branch and enjoying the good fruit that their home bare, the birds revealed the transformed tolerance of the tree – a glorious image of service, of selflessness, of love. The birds sang while they danced, and they danced while they sang. Enchanted by their majestic movements he was lulled into a peaceful slumber.
The boy felt somber. He had followed the birds through the thickets, halted by the abrupt fall off of the land before him. At cliff’s edge, he dangled his legs, and watched his graceful friends flutter away into the woods of the valley below. The sun was sitting low, fading away into the treetop specked horizon and spreading its last rays across the expanse of the sky. He felt the presence of his companion quietly sitting by his side. And there it was; in one breath he tasted the whole breadth of it all.
With the onset of dusk, in the now dark and silent stretch below, he heard a distant ringing of a church bell and saw a dim light flicker on. “Where can it all be seen?”, he wondered.
“At the breaking of dawn, the fading of dusk, and somewhere neatly in between. Now come, child. I long for your embrace.”
“O Father, I am sleeping.”