This life isn’t always easy, but sometimes fate is benevolent and gives us a few moments of such beauty and grace that it seems impossible for our chests to contain our swelling hearts.
I experienced one of those a couple of weeks ago, returning home from dropping my oldest son off at his mother’s house. I’ve been on a Neil Young kick lately, going back and marveling at just how magnificent “Sleeps With Angels,” the 1994 album he made with long-time band Crazy Horse, is. It’s a dark, brooding thing, reminiscent of “Tonight’s the Night” and inspired in part by the death of grunge icon Kurt Cobain, who quoted Young in his suicide note. There’s a lot of darkness on the record, but the first song, “My Heart,” is a lovely, piano-driven elegy that’s both warm and sorrowful, and I rolled the lyrics over in my mind on the drive back to the East Maryville home where my wife and my two youngest — Cullen, 5, and Mandolin, almost 17 months — were waiting.
”Down in the valley the shepherd sees, his flock is close at hand / and in the night sky, a star is falling down from someone’s hand ...”
All weekend, the weather was nothing short of gorgeous. The temperatures were excessive, but the absence of humidity allowed the East Tennessee hills to take on a crystalline clarity that only occurs when rain has rinsed the air of pollen and the haze of heat that will soon blanket this land is nonexistent. As I drove down the road leading to our little cul-de-sac, the sun flitted through overhanging branches carpeted in the thick green of new leaves. The light filtered through the window’s glass in an off-on staccato rhythm, hypnotic in its beauty as I made a right turn and crested the gentle hill leading to the dead-end that marks House Wildsmith. Halfway up the hill, the song filling the car and my ears with Young’s crooning falsetto and tinkling piano, the combination of song and sun and azure skies dotted with puffy clouds, I saw my wife and children in the road.
”Somewhere, somewhere, I’ve gotta get somewhere / it’s not too late, it’s not too late, I’ve gotta get somewhere / This time I will take the lead somehow / This time you won’t have to show me how ...”
I couldn’t help but stop and watch for a few moments. Tessa rose to her knees from pulling crabgrass out of the flower bed surrounding the mailbox, wiping her forehead with a garden-gloved hand that left a streak of dirt across her brow, a breeze blowing one of those gorgeous red locks across a smile meant for me. My daughter sat in the grass nearby, babbling as she attempted to stand, only a few days away from walking. My 5-year-old wild child zipped around her in circles, lost in a fantasy world of superheroes, his hair almost the color of his mother’s and so long and wild he deserves a place as part of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys. My oldest was no doubt already playing video games, but I couldn’t help to wish that he had been there as well, shooting baskets by the curb.
“When dreams come crashing down like trees / I don’t know what love can do / When life is hanging in the breeze, I don’t know what love can do ...”
In that moment, the full measure of those lyrics and that melody combined with everything my eyes saw and damn near overwhelmed me. I’ve always been a restless sort, the kind of guy who can’t sit still for more than 30 minutes. Ask my co-workers: Staff meetings are torture, and at home, the only time I’m able to sit still is at the end of a long day on the job and additional hours in the garden or the garage or the kitchen. I get it from my mother, who knows only two speeds — “sleep” and “go” — and while it allows me to get a great deal accomplished, it can also prevent me from taking the time to savor my blessings.
For a few minutes, I took the time to do so that Saturday.
As I pulled up, I turned the engine off but let the music play. My son turned, shooting me a mischievous grin when he saw I had returned, and kept on running. My daughter grinned, and through the closed window, I could see her mouthing, “Daddy!” My wife shared that secret smile that spouses save for one another. The heat rolling off a green yard was warm but not unpleasant; the late afternoon sun bathing it all in a golden light that almost felt sacred. Across the way, my neighbor Ted and his family, of whom we grow fonder the more we get to know them, went about their Saturday afternoon routine, proffering a casual wave that lets me know he’s got my back, should I need his assistance.
I am not a man given to maudlin sentimentality, but that little moment in time touched me in inexplicable and profound ways, ways by which these words do little to paint an accurate picture. But that’s OK, too, because sometimes, those little moments are individualized, secret gifts from the universe that allow us a glimpse of hope and faith and goodness in ways that only we can see and appreciate.
”My heart, my heart, I’ve gotta keep my heart /It’s not too late, it’s not too late, I’ve gotta keep my heart / My love, I will give to you, it’s true / Although, I’m not sure what love can do ...”
I don’t think that last part is true, exactly. I think Mr. Young knows exactly what love can do, because this life shows us when we need the message the most. We just have to pay attention ... to open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts ... and when we experience such lovely little life moments, we just need to smile and give thanks.
Here's your Friday motivation, family. Savor every blessing today.