The coffee shop is a good place to begin a long walk of conversation. We begin ours with muddy Caffè Americanos.
Nate and I leave for a long walk along the canal. The trail leads us through melting snow and uncomfortable slush.
Occasionally, we stop, place our noses near our cups. Drink. And move on, stepping over a glassy black puddle whenever it comes.
I do most of the talking today, and the words roll off my tongue like vapory white ghosts. I watch how the voiceless thoughts take on new shapes when they’re delivered by the warmth of my breath.
Good thoughts often struggle for conversation in my head. It’s hard to hear them. Even for me. When they call out from under the cold, heavy drifts of anxiety.
But today something melts as our feet cut through the snow. For too long, I’ve allowed fear to pile up outside my front door. When the snow and ice look treacherous, I keep my thoughts indoors, letting them huddle up.
But now I’m moving forward, interrupting my pace only long enough for big gulps of coffee. Suddenly, a feathery thought burns the back of my throat.
A blue heron stirs. He rises from slaty waters, and his long, blue-gray wings now captivate my vision. They beat with a wild and untamed grace.
“What is security,” he asks, “if you don’t have hope?” Nate’s question startles me when I see how often I’ve allowed that need for “security” to become a rapacious, insulating god.
An enemy of faith.
I’ve clutched my inanimate gold for too long. My fingers burnished a heavy idol that lulled me with whispers and became my familiar substitute for faith.
A fool’s gold.
But hope cannot be held for long inside a tight fist. It wants out.
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul”
Of course, Emily Dickinson spent years trapped in her home, too.
Nate and I walk through this prayer for hours.
And so when I get home, it’s time to leave.
My family is heading downtown for the annual Empty Bowl Benefit. The fundraising event takes place at the farmer’s market, and everyone ends up waiting in line for a long time.
That’s when the wind bites. I’m hungry.
The kids stand in line with us. After 90 minutes, we still don’t have our food.
However, we’ve chosen, today, to wait in line for our soup. Because so many others have to wait for it every day.
The boys find sticks under the trees for sword-fighting and small patches on the sidewalk for ice-skating. We introduce ourselves to the couple behind us. They’ve been watching our boys.
“Yes, they’re 13 months apart,” we say.
“Ours are 12 years apart.” Everyone laughs.
My wife holds our place in line, and the boys and I run down a lane. Henry stops when he sees a slow-moving car, at least five blocks away.
“Dad, I think we should turn around.”
My explanation doesn’t convince him. “No,” he says. “I think we need to go back.” He’s four. And already thinking too much.
But I will keep moving forward, crunching through the snow.
Because the clear vision of a blue heron knows when it’s time to go.