|"This Splendid Inconvenience" by Brian Kershisnik|
“Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” —Psalm 121:4
I lie in my bed between two sleeping children, reading a novel about a man whose only daughter died. I stand up and just watch my kids sleep for a minute. I carry my wispy, twig-limbed seven-year-old daughter to her bed and flop her in among books and magazines. She makes a small noise in her throat and pulls up the blankets around her chin. I go back to my bed. My three-year-old is sprawled on his back with his hands outstretched as if to catch the stars, his hip twisted and his one leg resting on the knee of the other. Next to him on the bed, in an almost-identical position, is an olive-green stuffed frog I gave Julie when we were dating and which we regifted to one of the children for one of their birthdays. I carry him to his bed.
Our nights lately have been vast dark oceans in which our bed is the shore toward which children like small skiffs and driftwood apparently aimlessly make their meandering way. By morning, our harbor is filled with small, scattered, lightly breathing ships--unless I walk on the water of the night, carrying in my arms the small pieces of driftwood the shapes and sizes of small children. Sometimes I sink into their small boats with them and rock back into the oblivion of the star-strewn sea. We don’t sleep deeply, but we sleep well, in our own way.
Or I am a volunteer fireman, waking in the cold hours, rushing to put out the small fires that explode from the tinder of nightmares, loneliness, restlessness into cries in the dark: “Dad?”
I told Emerson that I would pay him a nickel for every night he stays in his bed until the morning. His eyes shone like the small bright coins he would receive. He lasted three dark nights, gathering his shining, and then on the fourth told me he would rather sleep next to me than have five cents. My sleep suffers while my heart sends invitations to the celebration.
Or this: I sit on the ground, pulling out of the brush of the vacuum cleaner enough hair and string (and even a stray, slim copper wire) to make a small bird’s nest, curled and coiled into itself, which attracts the lilt-voiced flit of my one-year-old’s curiosity as she alights on my lap and touches my face, quiet and sacred as a bird.
This same small girl writhes in my arms one stormblown night to face the biting wind. I tell her to hold to me, put her face in my neck, to trust me. But she wants to see where she is going.
Before he knows I am there to pick him up from kindergarten, I watch my five-year-old, sky-eyed boy spring along the segmented body of a caterpillar painted on the sidewalk, singing his ABCs backward. He bounces and bounds. He is exuberance. The way his limbs limberly whirl and flap like the arms of a windmill, the wings of a sparrow.
I watch my firstborn, who inherited my gift for sinking in water, at a swimming lesson. The teacher ignores her and focuses on an athletic boy with a confident grin. Lydia bobs and splashes obliviously by herself. This teacher, I think, she does not know that one day you’ll swim through oceans of light, behind you a wake of rippling joy, faces shimmering. But I know. I know.
And Ellie dances. She stretches her arms and spins. Her eyes look purple sometimes. Oliver tells tales. His preschool teacher cannot see that his liveliness is exuberance, his heart is pure. He always wants to tell round robin stories that begin, “It was a dark and spooky night” and end with cougars in a tent. He tells me, “When I prayed inside my head, I prayed for blessings for our family.” He lisps this in a gravelly voice. Lydia puts her hands over her ears as I tuck her into bed, watching me sing “I am a Child of God.” She is pretending she is deaf, and I am her teacher who does not know sign language, so I teach her by encouraging her to read my lips. She tries to sing along, mumbling half of each word as she imagines a deaf person might. When I kiss her goodnight, she says the game is over and she can hear.
Is this what it is like to be God?