Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Sometimes She Astounds Me
Sunday evening was a stormy one in Mountain Town.
Coal-colored clouds rolled across an already-black sky, rumbling with umbrage and occasionally igniting in brilliant sparks of light. My parents and Beautiful Cousin were watching a movie in the living room, and even over the din of the television I could hear the groan of thunder outside.
The house shook slightly, but no one else was unnerved by it.
"Where's Pie?" I asked.
During our romantic comedy viewings my 7-year-old sister often retreats to the second floor to see the Nickelodeon shows she loves, and I figured she may have done so now.
"She's upstairs," my mother said. "I think she has the Kids' Choice Awards on."
The house creaked again and I had an image of my second-grade sibling flying through an open hole in the ceiling.
"I'll go check on her," I announced.
When I walked into my parents' room, Pie was sitting on the bed avidly watching some unseemly game show wherein contestants competing for various prizes were doused in green sludge as the host and audience members laughed uproariously.
"Hey, Pie," I said, plopping down on the bed. "Whatchya doing?"
"BB, leave me alone," she muttered. "I'm trying to watch this."
She scooted to the other side of the bed and I rolled over to her, whereupon she hopped off the blankets and onto the floor. I decided not to follow her and gazed toward the window instead. I could just make out flashes of bright light from behind the blinds.
"Hey, Pie," I said. "Come watch the lightning."
She got up, grousing the whole time, and trudged to the window. I thought for sure I was about to lose her to the show, but then a huge trident of white-blue flame cracked through the sky like a gleaming serpent of electricity and her whole demeanor changed.
"Whoa!" she exclaimed. "BB, did you see that?"
"I did," I answered. "Quick, go grab the lights."
She hurried to the other side of the room, flicked the switch, and was back to the window within moments.
The glass through which we stared reflected the television screen, upon which a distasteful individual had shed his dignity in mucous-colored slime as the maniacally grinning judge urged him on towards some laudable reward.
"Pie, turn that off," I petitioned.
"No," she remonstrated.
Another lightning strike zigzagged down from the clouds and her will was broken.
She slammed the power button on the set and I breathed a sigh of immense satisfaction. I'd defeated the television.
We sat there for about twenty minutes, watching as truly spectacular wires of lightning wound their way out into the sky in angular patterns of magnificent luminescence.
From miles away we could see the low clouds over the mountains charging with energy that they then spewed into the valleys below. Rather than manifesting itself in single bolts, this lightning took the form of rolling waves, hurtling from one side of the landscape to another like an impossibly fast sun.
"Wow," Pie whispered.
I was pretty taken with it myself.
"Hey, BB," she began. "Do you think there could ever be a lightning bolt big enough for the whole world to see?"
I pondered the question.
"Well," I answered. "The world is round, so I'm not sure how the people on the other side would be able to see a lightning bolt that happened here."
"But could it happen?" she asked.
"I guess," I said. "But any lightning bolt that big would probably incinerate the whole planet."
"Will the planet ever incinerate?"
I weighed what my answer would be. Pie poses uncomfortable questions sometimes, but my general policy is to be as honest as is good for her and I decided to do so in this instance.
"Yes, sweetheart," I told her. "Eventually, it will."
"How will it happen?" she asked.
She was very calm.
"One day, we'll fall into the sun," I replied.
That's not entirely truthful; the sun will actually explode outward and envelop us, but the end result is the same anyway.
She looked right into my eyes.
"Is that going to happen when I'm grown up?"
"No, honey," I said. "You'll be long gone by then."
She turned to the window and was suddenly lost in contemplation. It was like I wasn't even there.
"I don't know myself," she murmured.
"What do you mean, Der-Der?" I asked.
"I don't know myself," she repeated. "I don't know why He made this world. What would it be like if this world weren't here? It is here, though. I don't know why."
Not for the first time, I was blown away by the depth that exists within this little girl, a little girl whose peers probably grapple with no question more difficult than what their favorite nighttime snack is.
"Pie," I said again. "What do you mean, honey? When you say you don't know yourself? What do you mean?"
"I..." she struggled with the words, a 7-year-old child trying to articulate concepts so much bigger than most 7-year-old children ever touch upon. "I can't explain it. But I don't know myself. I don't really know anyone. Sometimes when I'm at school I'll just look at the ground and wonder why we're here, and I don't know. I don't get the point."
"The world is not to know yourself, though," she said. "The world is for you to be here."
I was hoping by this time that she hadn't registered my total dumbfounded shock.
She turned to me with the earnest eyes of an elementary-schooler.
"BB," she asked. "Do you think Santa knows why God made the world?"
I sighed, weirdly relieved but a bit sad as well. Maybe that sadness comes from knowing that, with a mind like hers, the delightful combination of mystery and certainty that comprises childhood will be neither mysterious nor certain before long.
"No, sweetheart, he doesn't know," I answered. "No one knows."
Her face fell and her shoulders visibly sagged.
The sound of the Country Music Awards coming from downstairs quickly lifted her out of her funk, though.
"BB, come on, come on!" she exclaimed, racing for the staircase. Mortality and higher meaning and all their implications were forgotten. "Carrie Underwood is singing!"
I stared out at the clouds for a moment longer, slowly rose to my feet, and followed my sister down the stairs.