I have had some crazy-feeling moments along this path. But this one may top them all. When there was a bear looking right at me, right through the glass door of my fancy tent, and me and my three children and my puppy looking back at him.
I don’t know what to tell you about the bear. But he’s still right outside my house right now. (Hello, bear.) He was there when I went to bed. And he was there when I got up. And I love that it made me famous on Facebook for, like, fifteen minutes, but this isn’t a novel that I’m living. It’s my life. So I rattled my keys against a cake pan all the way up to the car and backed my car down to the door and when the kids wake up we’re going to drive down and ask my neighbor help, which is the kind of help that comes in a rifle.
And I think when I pick my husband up from the airport tonight I’ll probably start crying. Probably the really ugly, messy kind of cry. But in the meantime, here we are, and I’m mostly holding it together. I’ve got two kids still sleeping and the baby crawling around the floor with the dog. And I’ve got Cheerios and milk to feed them for breakfast. And I’ve the car keys and my cake pan to make a racket all the way to the car. And I’m thinking about courage.
I was, anyway. I’ve been thinking about courage anyway, since there were six fires this summer in a ten mile radius. And since the neighbors have been talking to me about snow, and how a house in a draw can get covered all the way up to the top so you have to shovel out the windows. And since I still have no financial plan. No deep bank account. No insurance. No phone line. No electricity.
My son turned six years old on Saturday. And he helped me put away the ducks. The bear wasn’t around yet, but still, we probably shouldn’t have been out there, in the dark: me, and my four-year-old, and the boy who turned six that very day. But you know how it is. We went to have birthday cupcakes with grandma and grandpa. And I don’t like cupcakes, so I had a beer instead. And then I was talking about the things you talk about when you’re a person, which means you’re a walking mass of blood and nerve endings, and the violet hour came up on me in the valley and I didn’t notice it. I was holding an empty beer bottle and talking about my feelings.
I hoped against hope that we would make it home before dark, but we absolutely didn’t. And I said to my children, “I know that I never even usually let you outside when it’s this dark, but Milo just turned six, so now you’re big kids. And I’m going to need some help putting away the ducks.”
You guys, they love this so much. They love it when they are actually needed. Not just like, “Do your chores, because it will make you a better person.” And certainly not like, “Okay, fine, I’ll let you help, you can hold this extra pair of pliers.” No. Kids know what’s what. And what they love is when you need them because you’re ankle deep in the pond in the dark and you’re calling with a sort of desperate-housewives tone, “Ducky, ducky, ducky!” to five ducks who are completely ignoring you.
They love that.
I think it was the best thing that happened to Milo all day, even on the day that he turned six years old. Even though I was barking orders at them, “You stand right there…don’t move!…okay, now move!” Milo got to walk around the pond, along the narrow concrete rim, to the spot usually occupied by his 6’5” mountain man of a father. And when he reached out with his stick and slapped the water, just like me, those obnoxious ducks finally made their way up the bank and into their house, to where Stella was standing ready to shut the door.
Ten minutes later I was tucking those big kids into my bed, because they get to sleep with me while daddy’s gone, and Milo said, “I was braver than Batman.”
I said, “You sure were, honey.”
And he fell asleep, happy, on the day that he turned six years old.
So, yeah. I’ve been thinking about courage. And I’ve decided that the bravest person that I know in the world is baby Sadie, who has just learned how to scoot across the deck in a jackknife position, with one leg out in front of her, because she doesn’t know when the edge of the deck is coming, but she knows it’s coming, and by gum she is going to see the world on the other side of that edge.
I am not into suicide. And I am not into stupid things. I am not going to hang out with a bear all day, or let a bear play croquet with my babies. But I am still into seeing the world beyond the edge of the deck. And I’m not ashamed of it, either.
I respect this hunger. For wild things, and the wild in us. I respect the hunger for the biggest thing, for the rippling muscles and the teeth, even for the edge of the cliff. I think this, too, is our hunger for God. Not the soft-toothed God of Christian radio, who is like a big fuzzy friend who lives upstairs, but the God of Psalms, of terror and shaking mountains. The God of Jeremiah and utter destruction. The God who makes canyons. And bears. The God who makes you want to shake the man who’s sitting at the end of the pew falling asleep because, don’t you know that little lady next to you with the Bible on her lap is a lightning rod? And the whole place just might blow!
I’m not into suicide. And I’m not into conquering the wilderness on some kind of ego trip. I just want to live awake. I want to live small in this big world. I don’t want to live buying or selling illusions of my immortality. I want to live with a holy fear, not the fear that silences and numbs.
Please, God, let me scoot jackknifed like the baby into this huge and wild creation. Let me step gently as best I can, into a rhythm not of my own making. Let me see the terrain beyond work, work, work, work, work, vacation, work. Let me see the life beyond Me Me Me Me Me Me Me, survival. Please, let me scoot off the edge of the deck, onto a sacred path.
And when I get to the end of my run, let me lie down and say, “I was braver than Batman.”