[We were so delighted to publish this at Story Warren because it zeros in on so much of what we are aiming for. But this doesn’t only apply to children and families. Thank you so much for this, Alyssa. —Sam]
“Can we go to school the long way today?” My daughter’s brown eyes watched my reflection in the mirror as I stood behind her, brushing her hair. “The view is better when we go that way,” she said.
“Do you mean when we pass the big field?” I asked, returning her reflected gaze. She nodded.
“What do you like to see in the field?” I asked her.
This was a first. My six-year-old is much like me: practical-minded, task-driven, and above all, punctual. She is the first of us to be ready each morning. She will stand in the kitchen—backpack on—and watch the clock, announcing each minute that passes until go time.
Even when we’re running ahead of schedule, she hurries her little brother along and asks repeatedly, “Are we going to be late?”
So I was surprised that today she wanted to go the long way. And that is why, even though her little brother had seen to it that we were running late, the long way is how we went.
In truth, plenty of other fields are lovelier than the one on Woehrle Road. Just a few miles north on 62, you pass sights much more pleasing to the eye: sprawling farms, ribbons of water bending between wooded banks, meadows wrapped around maple-crowned hills. By comparison, our little field hardly qualifies as a field at all. It’s really just a wide place between suburban gridlines — a few dozen acres the city hasn’t yet been able to wrest from the (no doubt wonderful) family who owns them.
But perhaps it is made lovelier for its incongruity with the edifices of industry and commerce huddled around it. It certainly is a welcome respite for eyes that are accustomed to the visual bam-bam-bam of development.
For maybe thirty seconds, the landscape smooths. You can look at it without having to blink away information overload. You want to keep looking.
Driving down the arrow-straight lane along the eastern side of our field, I risked letting my wheels wander off into the icy shoulder to look a little harder at the field than usual. I wanted to appreciate it with my daughter, to have it in common with her.
I think I know what draws her to that field. It isn’t the modest beauties perceivable to the eye: the subtle rise and fall of the land, like a topography of slow breathing. The ice-glazed skeletons of last autumn’s gleanings. The pond, frozen who-knows-how-solid, issuing a silent dare. The southern sun slipping upward, glancing across the expanse with shy eyes.
I think she is drawn not to the things she sees, but to what they awaken: longing. I know because I have felt it and hoped to feel it again. I have gone the long way in order to find it.
C.S. Lewis called it the inconsolable secret. It’s the deep desire to be able to slow, to enter, to quench an ineffable thirst. It’s an ache in my chest, a wild need to hold on to the invisible source of the beauty before my eyes. It is my soul trying to swallow.
The Germans call it sehnsucht. Maybe they can explain it better.
This longing has become familiar to me as I’ve learned to recognize and welcome it. But it is just beginning to awaken in my daughter. She’s never asked to go the long way before.
I glanced back at her. She was turned toward the window in her high-back booster seat. I wanted to say something, to mark the moment with a poignant phrase.
But her head rested against the seat belt. Her eyes were distant. I knew that my girl had gone where I couldn’t follow. Gazing silently out her window, deaf to her brother’s nonsensical chatter, she was listening to a language only knowable to her.
I didn’t ask her what she felt. She couldn’t have explained it any better than I can.
It is enough to know that she was willing to risk punctuality for the sake of something lovely. She is learning to differentiate between what is expedient and what is meaningful. I am overjoyed that she is beginning to listen to the call of a place whose rewards are worth the price of practicality.
It was a beautiful, sad, holy thing to watch my daughter slip into that place and beyond my reach. But it is a place she must go. I pray she will learn to seek it often, and to take delight there. I pray she will hear in it whispers of a Name.
I will gladly go the long way to get her there.
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Featured image by Shauna Raymer