Monday, March 8, 2010

The greatest show on earth

On Sunday afternoon, we celebrated the birthdays of my two youngest sons, Paul and Asaph. Paul is four today, and Asaph turned two on Friday. I know that every mother says this each time her child has a birthday, but I really, truly can't believe how fast the time has gone. My "baby" is two? How did that happen? All I did was put Cheerios and strained carrots into his mouth, and poof! I now have a walking, talking, sword-wielding boy in front of me. My little Paul is now learning to play piano and sound out words. Is that possible? Is there some astonishing sleight of hand at work here?

I can tell you what happened. But I absolutely cannot tell you how. This wasn't my doing. I had nothing up my sleeve. No trick cards. No false doors. This is the real deal. This kind of magic has the makings of a sell-out Vegas attraction—only better.

David Copperfield, you can't impress me. I know someone who can turn water into wine. He can do it with a (magic) word in a moment, or he can do it with rain and vines over months, but he does it all the time. What can you do, Mr. Copperfield?

I know someone who can turn coal into diamonds. Do they do that in Vegas?

I know someone who can transform tomato soup and grilled cheese into flesh and bone. No smoke or mirrors involved. And I don't have to buy tickets to watch it happen. Can you do that, Mr. Copperfield?

Unlike in Vegas, this is the kind of show that attracts biologists with clipboards. They sit, unmoved, in the audience and observe the magic. They describe it in minute detail—right down to the molecular level. They write articles in scientific journals and make Discovery Channel documentaries about it. But they can't tell us anything—not anything—about how all this is happening. Or why. They might use the word "because", but they don't really mean it. All those impressive charts of the digestive process and the breakdown of chemical elements for use by various cells amount to nothing more than journalistic observation.

The biologist might say, "The kidneys convert vitamin D into calcitriol to help the body absorb dietary calcium and phosphorus into the blood and bones." But in spite of his impressive, Latinate words, he is doing nothing more than telling us, in essence, that the kidney has just pulled a rabbit out of its hat. The scientist is simply another spectator (albeit with a good pair of opera glasses) recording his experience at the greatest show on earth. He has no backstage pass.

We think that, because we've seen something a hundred times, we can understand it. Because we can describe what we saw, we believe we can explain why it happened. But that is the only illusion taking place in this venue. What's happening in front of our eyes is no illusion; it's magic in its most genuine sense. The medieval alchemists believed that lead could be turned into gold. But I believe in the far more improbable notion that a single cell can turn into an oak tree, or a sea cucumber, or Barak Obama. Ladies, and gentlemen, children of all ages, it happens in real life! Why isn't anyone selling tickets?

Four years and several gallons of milk can turn my helpless infant into a talkative preschooler. Throw in a few more years and a mountain of sandwiches, and that preschooler will be big enough to drive a car. And his voice will have changed. What a brilliant performance! And I've been invited to watch from the front row. Could there be a greater privilege?

Sometimes, I admit, raising small children seems to be something less than magical. Sometimes a day at home with a group of busy little ones can feel like an eternity—an endless cycle of diapers and drool and discipline. But then, I blink and realize that the baby has (abracadabra!) grown into a toddler. Right here, under my nose, a jaw-dropping transformation is taking place. Suspend your disbelief. (Suspend your unbelief.) Enjoy the show. The Bellaggio has nothing on the nursery.


Carissalayla said...

Happy Birthday Paul and Asaph!

Erika said...

Happy Birthday boys!

Bree said...

Sure appreciate your perspective on this swift growing process. Naomi is 1 today!!! Sheesh.

kyle said...

Wonderfully, creatively written. You can put into words what I seek to put into a photograph. :)

kyle said...

woops, the "kyle" is really KeriAnn.

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