|"Father and Son Dancing" by Brian Kershisnik|
The other night as we were sitting around the dinner table, Julie asked the kids what they would do if they had an infinite amount of money. Lydia’s eyes got big and she smilingly asked, “What’s that country again where they still have queens and stuff?” “England?” Julie offered. “Yeah,” Lyd said, “I would go to England, and when they found out that I had so much money, they would make me queen!” Her eyes pirouetted and shone. “Why do you want to be a queen?” Julie asked. “It’s just a dream I have,” Lyd said simply. Emerson said, “You wouldn’t like what I’d do with it, mom.” “Why’s that?” “Because I would buy a whole lot of stuff with sugar.” We’ve been reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory lately, and last night Em told me, “I wish this book was true and I was Charlie.” You could see the reality of the wish in his eyes. They have interpreted the term sweet tooth as sugar tooth, and Emerson has told me several times that all of his teeth are sugar teeth.
Julie’s own visions of infinite wealth were all pretty domestic and simple: a new washer and dryer, new carpet, and the big splurge: a bathroom in the basement. She wouldn’t move from our 1970’s funky old mansard-roofed house, just make it a little more comfortable. She said she’d keep working one night a week to keep her nursing credentials current. I love the contentedness of her soul. Did Andrew Carnegie really say, “Show me a man who is contented, and I will show you a failure”? Pardon me, but what an asinine remark from an otherwise rather large-hearted man. I think I buy in more to Paul’s school of thought: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” “I have all, and abound: I am full.” One evening I was sitting on my kitchen floor watching my children laugh and dance and spin. I was considering pursuing a doctorate degree at the time, and I thought, “This is what I would sacrifice. And what would I gain?” “But godliness with contentment is great gain. We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us therewith be content.” “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Well, I still haven’t started that PhD. Maybe someday, but for now I will sit contentedly on the kitchen floor, being a dad.
Childhood is a bird, a river, a song. Rushing toward me and away from me at the same time. So I want to cup the water and drink. To be present. To see, dip my feet, listen with face upturned. My father-in-law was busy as a young father establishing himself as a lawyer in a large firm. He feels like he missed much of the sacred smallness of his children. One day when his kids were grown he was given a dream in which he was driving and turned around to see his children in the back of the car, returned to the young ages they were when he was so consumed with other things. Julie was a small girl again, with the green tooth she had gotten falling down. As I type this, Eleanor toddles over to me and points at the screen with her dimpled hand. “Doh da!” she says. She smiles. Pardon me while I hug her up and weep.
What would you do with infinite wealth? It was a fun conversation. The first thought that came to me was: end world hunger. But I wouldn’t want to sacrifice the gentle life I lead. So I would have to do it on the sly without awakening the attention of the world. I would travel the earth, disguised as myself, seeking those who do good, and I would empower them, anonymously, secretly. I would spend time talking to people to get to know their hearts and intentions. And then I would leave them with a load of money. I would visit churches and small villages where I could sit at kitchen tables with strangers engaged in blessing the world. I would put my wealth into the pockets of gentle or radical people intent on alleviating suffering and darkness and despair. I would listen to their stories, and then I would fund those who create beauty and joy and hope. As I imagined this, surrounded by my family at the dinner table, the thought fluttered into my mind: This might be what it would be like to be God. He is infinitely rich. He could feed the world and fill it with loveliness and light. But His quality of life and His purposes for mortals depend on His remaining invisible and allowing us to show forth His mercies and His riches. So He might well roam the earth as a wanderer and a gentle stranger, placing the shining coins of His grace into the hands and pockets of those who have shown themselves seekers of holiness. And then, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” I can imagine Him sitting down to share a cup of light with a good human in some small café somewhere and then pressing into her hands a small purse. “Do good,” He whispers, “Live well.” And then He goes back home to play with His children, rolling in the deep carpet of the worn but comfortable front room of Heaven.