The blaze of candles gives a warm, waxy taste to the lungful of air I just inhaled over the birthday cake on the table below me. I’m garnering sufficient breath to extinguish them. Another November 5 has come, and with it another year of living. I suppose I’m not properly amused.
After 30-plus go-arounds, birthdays are starting to become more wearisome than wonderful—another step toward midnight on life’s ever-ticking clock.
As I mark time’s passage, I’m struck by what changes and what doesn’t. The old wooden dining room table supporting the cake has been around longer than I have. I think of the rise and fall of cities of Legos, Tinker Toys, and Lincoln Logs on its surface. I think of family Thanksgivings, the tabletop piled with steamy mashed potatoes, golden turkey, homegrown corn, and green beans glistening with dollops of melting butter.
My mind traces further back and the table changes. Or, rather, I realize that I have changed.
When I was a child this dining room table and its chairs were anything but utilitarian. Their towering mass could be the walls and roof of an epic castle, a stalwart fort, or a cozy home populated with smudged stuffed animals. I could walk under them or, as I grew, climb under them. But somewhere along the march of November birthdays, I outgrew their shadow.
The chair I once climbed under, and later sat on with dangling legs, became smaller. One birthday my toes touched the floor as I scooted forward. Then they touched even when I sat all the way back. A few birthdays later I could plant my feet squarely on the floor.
I wonder if something of the mystery and wonder of childhood isn’t the swinging squirm of dangling legs. Toes that do not touch speak of an expansive world—a world of opportunities. Free-kicking feet inhabit a world infused with a sweet mixture of wonder and dependency, of hope and of trust.
Somehow the rootedness of feet firmly planted uproots the mystery of innocence’s dangling spaces.
At 6'3" I don’t get too many daily experiences of smallness. Rather than peering over, I must now stoop down toward my birthday cakes. Rather than being overshadowed, I overshadow. Rather than kicking freely, I scrape and scuff with heavy footfalls.
As I’ve grown bigger, my world has grown smaller. As I’ve grown stronger, my world has grown more overwhelming. As my intellectual faculties have ripened, the scope of my imagination has withered.
So this year as I gather my lungful of candle-warmed air, I breathe a prayer:
Lord, you have grown us. Grow now the world around us. Let us kick tiny feet into the bigness of your rest. Expand our world, and with it, our hope and trust in you. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. John Lee is pastor of Bethel CRC in Sioux Center, Iowa. He grew up on a dairy farm outside McBain, Mich., where he attended Northern Michigan Christian School.