There are many things that I believe to be true but do not fully comprehend: The complex balance of nature, The size and terrifying emptiness of the universe, The way salmon and geese and butterflies all find their way back home again with microscopic brains and no access to Google Maps. There are many mysteries to our existence that I see and trust but do not understand. And one of those enigmas is the mystical aspects of the connection we call “love”.
I believe that love can create a link between two spirits. As if there is a part of ourselves that is not bound by the physical measurements of time and space, but sits quietly on the sidelines grinning at us knowingly but never speaking unless something needs to be said. This silent observer waits for something like the moment when a seventeen-year-old version of myself walked into a Russian language class at the community college one evening and saw Andrea sitting in the corner. This silent, knowing part of myself suddenly stood up and laughed inside of me and I realized, with absolute certainty and peace but also devastating terror that made me nearly pass out, that this girl was the person I would someday grow old with and would be the mother of my children. And as the room faded to black and my chest began to burn hot like an oven, I saw, for a split second, through a window into the future. And there was myself holding hands with this woman and three small children, and I didn’t know how I knew, or why I knew, but I knew. And it was true.
Since then, I have lost count of the number of times I have thought, midway through my day, that I really needed to call Andrea, not even knowing exactly why, only to pull my phone out of my pocket and immediately have it start ringing. My soul rings for her before she even dials the phone. I think of it as if our minds are two houses sitting next door to one another, and from my bedroom window to her bedroom window is a string with a tin can on each end. You can’t really use it to communicate, but you can get some impression of the attitude or emotion that is taking place on the other end of the line. Love shows us strange things sometimes.
It’s a funny little thing, and I know it is not unique. I could share stories that I have heard of other people encountering impossible to explain coincidences like this between themselves and people they love. But those stories are not mine to share. This one is.
I had struggled over Valentine’s Day cards all week. They were much too expensive to buy, especially one for every member of my family like I was wanting. So, I had walked out of the store with a stack of colored card stock and dreams of making a custom-designed card for each of them in my free time. But of course, that is ridiculous, because there is no such thing as “my free time”, so I was under a lot of stress that week, sitting at my desk working on maps, schedules, and spreadsheets, while somewhere deeper inside of my mind I was frantically cutting paper and drawing hearts, coming up with the perfect Valentine for everyone.
Out of this cloud of construction paper walked a jovial robot with a heart on his chest wishing Gideon a “Hap Py Val En Tines Day”. For Clara, a bouquet of flowers materialized which I practiced drawing on scrap paper about five or six times before finally committing it to a sheet of teal card stock. Andrea received a rose that I agonized over for even longer. I went into something of a trance while drawing it, and woke up staring into a red rose that had appeared on the paper by nothing less than the grace of God. But Lydia was a puzzle I could not work out. What art do you create for the artist? What story illustration do you share to communicate your love for the storyteller?
I fumbled my way through several iterations; shapes and colors were cascading through my mind, crashing into one another, being crumpled into balls and tossed into the wastebasket, over and over and over. Finally, something clicked into place. The afternoon of Valentine’s Day, sitting at my desk, I found myself looking out the window and imagining a scene. In this scene, Lydia and I were depicted as giraffes. I saw myself standing over her, proudly picking hearts out of a very tall tree and dropping them down to the ground for my smiling and appreciative giraffe daughter to collect. It was a simple scene, but it communicated what I wanted to communicate. It told the story I wanted to tell. I practiced a few times at putting this image down on paper and finally sketched it onto a card and colored over it with markers. I leaned back in my chair and smiled. I had finished.
In every card I included a message about what I loved about each wonderful person in my family, then I neatly creased the folds and placed the cards in my bag for the drive home.
That night at dinner I passed out the cards and some treats for everyone to share. Everyone closed their eyes while I placed boxes of chocolates in front of them with a Valentine’s Day card on top, and then the room exploded into oohs and ahs and the sound of cellophane wrapping being torn. The cards were quickly set aside in favor of the foil candy boxes and I sighed, leaning back in my chair, laughing at my own overthinking.
“Lydia,” I said finally. “I’m glad you are excited about your chocolates, but did you see your card?”
She dug through the pile of paper and boxes in front of her and unearthed a purple piece of paper. “Oh yes. I like it.”
“What is on it though?” I asked.
She squinted at it and shrugged. Clara was sitting next to her and leaned out of her chair to glance at it. But she suddenly gasped and fell sideways out of her chair completely. As she picked herself up off of the floor she grabbed at the card in her sister’s hands and looked at me with eyes the size of dinner plates. There was something almost frightened in her act of surprise.
“What is this! What is on here?!” she gasped.
“I don’t know,” I grinned, pleased that one of the children had finally looked at one of the cards I made. “What is it?”
But she kept waving it in the air and rolling her head in confused circles. “No. No! How did you know to draw this? Where did this come from?”
I was getting a bit disturbed by her reaction so I leaned forward in my chair and explained. “It’s giraffes,” I said. “I am the big one. I’m-“
She cut me off, “Yes, I know, I know. You are knocking hearts out of the tree for Lydia who is not tall enough to reach them. But how did you know to draw that?!”
I blinked at her in confusion. “I just thought of it.”
“When?! When did you think of it?!” she was coming around the table and I backed away a step in self-defense.
“I… I don’t know. Just this afternoon. Why?”
She pointed at the picture. “Because this is my story! This is the story I made up for the kids JUST THIS AFTERNOON. I was watching the kids at the painting party and I wanted to tell them a story, so I made up a story about a daddy giraffe that knocks apples out of a tree for his daughter. This is my story!” she was still frantic. Confused. “Did they tell you? Did someone tell you?”
But I just smiled. Because no one had told me. It was just one of those things that travels through space and time. My daughter and I, both struggling to conjure an image of love in our minds at the same moment. One of us sharing the answer to the riddle with the other without even knowing it. Was the image mine, or hers, or was it somehow both of ours? I pondered the improbability of this coincidence, the million monkeys with typewriters pecking away at the keys inside our heads. And I smiled. We all smiled. We looked at each other, at what we had become together: a family, a man, a woman, three young children holding hands around a table, united in love on a Valentine’s Day evening, spiraling through a vast and unknowable universe, the limits of which are surrounded by only God, and we smiled.
In that moment, I saw something appear outside our dining room window. There in the darkness stood a seventeen-year-old boy, bewildered and dizzy shaking his head and trying to make sense of it all. And for a split second, just as he faded from view, I locked eyes with the young man and winked.