Magic and the innocence of children

By  Kathy Berken

Grandparents are well known for not only seeing magic in the eyes of their grandchildren, but also creating it. I am no exception.

Over the past couple of weeks since my daughter Erica has been recovering from breast cancer surgery, I have been spending a lot more time at their home, taking care of Erica when her husband Aaron is at work. I also have some special time with their 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Isabelle.

My daughter-in-law Sarah has been here all week helping out. Yesterday, Sarah spent the morning at the park with Isabelle and I went swimming with her in the afternoon. Then we had time to play and visit before Aaron got home from work.

At dinner, being a grandma with a pocket full of magic made every other moment on this rollercoaster year all worth it. Normally, Isabelle is antsy at mealtime and we expected her to nibble at her meal and get down to play or to have a meltdown due to the lateness of the hour and her tiredness. She dug into her yogurt and then just licked the dressing from the salad. Hmm, this grandma’s wheels were turning.

“Isabelle, did you know that when you eat lettuce you can hear the bunnies talking?” She looked up and I repeated the question. With conviction. “Really, it’s true. The more lettuce you eat, the better you can hear the bunnies talking. And when grandma says it, it is true!” Erica, Aaron and Sarah didn’t have to roll their eyes. Their combined looks questioned whether Grandma Kathy could work magic and convince a grandchild to eat her vegetables.

Surprising even to me, Isabelle ate all her lettuce and looked at her daddy and said, “More please.” Oh, boy, this is so much fun! “The more you eat, the better you will be able to hear the bunnies!” She finished it all, but then just hopped down and went to play.

Aaron teased, “Oh sure, grandma, now we’re going to find her outside with her head in the dirt listening for the bunnies.” “No, no, just wait,” I said, “it’ll be fine.” I got Isabelle to go back to her place so I could explain how we can hear the bunnies now that we all had eaten our lettuce.

“First, we have to sit in our chair and be very quiet; then we count to five, and then put our hands behind our ears and listen really hard.” We all did as instructed. “Listen,” I said, “Shh, listen,” putting a very surprised look on my face. Isabelle, too, opened her eyes wide, and I said, “Can you hear them? I can hear the bunnies. Can you?” With a gigantic smile, she said, “I hear the bunnies, too!”

At that very moment, Erica’s cancer diagnosis, and the unknown future of chemotherapy and radiation, every single pain, frustration or sadness that we might have been feeling about everything, here and from around the world, just melted. For a few moments, the pure joy of watching a toddler absolutely believe that if you eat lettuce you will hear the bunnies — and she did! — made everything else worth the effort.

This is how it is with anything in life, right? When you find even one moment of joy in the midst of all the pain, it is so good to know that God has been with us all along. It’s not magic but it definitely gives us hope in the mystery of God’s loving presence.

This reminds me of the haiku by the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa: “In this world / We walk on the roof of hell / Gazing at flowers.”

(Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at The Arch, L’Arche in Clinton (1999-2009) and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch.)


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