“Hey, buddy? Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yeah, daddy. Yeah” was the practically-rote response my three and a half year old gave to me while sitting at his desk. He was eating graham crackers and drinking a juice box while the exploits of Grover, Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster played out on the television screen before him. It was early in the afternoon, relatively soon after he had woken up from his nap. And although I was trying to talk to him…
—I was clearly not as interesting as puppets singing about plastic bath toys.
A few minutes earlier, a sound that resembled a large, metallic crash had come from our backyard. I slipped on my sandals and was about to head out the back door to investigate the championship wrestling match that a couple of squirrels had undoubtedly gotten into, but I wanted him to know where I was going. Kai is accustomed to me going outside to take the recycling to the street corner, rescue errant balls that roll off the patio, and the like. But just to be safe, I told him for a third time “Kai, daddy is going to go to the backyard to see what that big noise was, okay? You sit right here, and I’ll be back in just a minute, alright? …Malakai? Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yeah, daddy. Yeah.”
Forget “cookie;” “C” is obviously for “complacent.”
So I walked into the kitchen, passed through the adjacent laundry room, and out the back door. Sure enough, after I got to the bottom of the stairs, I noticed the scrub brush for my grill was in a location not even remotely close to where I had left it. It had fallen off, clattered against the spare propane tank, and probably given the squirrels in question a bit of a scare before they ran away. So I picked the brush up, dusted it against my bluejeans, and sat it back on the side of the grill.
The whole time outside could not have lasted more than two minutes. Tops.
Once I opened the back door to come back inside, I heard the worst sound in the world. The sound every parent in the recesses of their mind and soul fears to hear more than anything. The sound that caused my body temperature to drop by several degrees as the blood froze in my veins the minute I heard it.
The cry. That cry. The wailing cry. The most painful, pitiful, cry imaginable. A cry I had never heard Kai cry before.
I raced through the kitchen and through the dining room, expecting to find…what? Him holding a severed finger? The living room on fire?
Clowns had invaded our house?
Instead, what I saw was this: Kai was standing in the doorway facing the front door, his face and shirt wet from the numerous tears he had shed, his cheeks flushed red with frustration and anxiety, and his eyes were enlarged and red from crying huge crocodile tears and from the accompanying terror he looked like he felt.
“DADDY!” he managed to choke out between gasps for air. “I THOUGHT I HAD LOST YOU! I COULDN’T FIND YOU ANYWHERE!”
And as we sat on the floor, me cradling him while he buried his face into my shirt and held onto my sleeve with a vise-like grip, I tried to not laugh. Not that I found the situation funny in the least bit, but there was a level of absurdity about it: I had told him where I was going, he had said he heard me, but in the midst of his being distracted by cartoon ducks teaching him how to count, he had failed to actually listen.
I saw way too much of myself in this.
I saw the number of times God has tried to tell me or show me something, only for me to be so engrossed by my own stash of Goldfish and the white noise of life drowning Him out that I fail to listen. I may hear Him, but listening takes more than just an acknowledgement of the words being delivered.
I was not physically far away from Kai, nor will I ever be as long as he stays home with me. But he, for once, didn’t recognize that. Maybe it was that I went a different route than usual, out the back door instead of the front. …because life never takes you down an unexpected road. Maybe it was that he couldn’t see me while I was outside. …because even in the times when I feel like there is a spiritual sliding glass door between us, I still draw comfort and ease from nature and witnessing signs of God’s presence. Maybe it was that after I had given him assurances I would be right back, all he knew was once he looked and couldn’t find me, he felt separated, abandoned, and alone.
…because I am clearly never that way about my relationship with God.
We snuggled for a few more minutes on the floor, all the while I kept telling him softly time and again “Daddy is right here, Malakai. You’re safe.” Eventually the combination of words, the rocking, and the repeated soft kisses on the tussle of sandy-blond curls on his head helped to calm him. He eventually stopped crying all at once, leaned back in my lap, and gave me a huge, dimple-embellished smile before jumping up and asking me to come play race cars in his room. This tragedy had apparently passed, all was right with the world, and it was time to move on.
Except…every so often, for the rest of that day, he would stop what he was doing, run up to me, give me a huge hug and say “I’m so glad to see you again.”
To have that faith, and that love, like a child.
[photo: Gerry T, Creative Commons]