After Tragedy, Exult in the Goodness of Monotony
I hold her up, watching her face open with anticipation. She and I savor the suspense, then I let go and hear her squeal again, the swing careening forward. Before she's even started to slow, she's signing, "More! More!" She doesn't talk much, this curly-headed two-year-old of mine, but she tells me what she wants with a clear insistence.
"Again?" I ask—as though I'm surprised. We do everything again, and again and again and again. As she leaves behind her baby-ness this year and earns the title "toddler," she never does anything only once.
My coffee is rapidly cooling on the kitchen counter. I have work to do, phone calls to make, appointments to schedule. I feel an urgency to be doing—especially during a time that I feel particularly helpless and heavy. But I resist the urge to end her fun, and instead say, "Again!" These mornings of more and again and childhood delight are slipping away. I know I should learn from her; that, like Chesterton says, I've lost my ability to "exult in monotony" like she can.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
- G. K. Chesterton
This summer, I'm watching my daughter awaken. It's curious and strange and beautiful. Every day is different; she learns something new, she discovers an ability, she studies the world. This is the first summer she's solidly a child, no longer a baby. But it's also the last summer—the last summer she'll sign, the last summer she'll count by repeating, "nine, nine, nine," the last summer without a sibling, the last summer she'll be two. Someday there will be a last time she says "Again!"
Then there will be a first time—when she first asks what the words "mass shooting" or "terrorism" or "hate crime" mean. When she asks why mommy's tearing up over breakfast. Somewhere between outgrowing monotony and growing into adulthood she'll begin to confront brokenness and evil and heartbreak. I may be "nearly dead" with repetition and diapers and childhood tantrums; I may selfishly want an end to the interruptions to my day and my sleep. But when all of that comes—and it will, too fast—she'll be waking up to a lost and hurting world.
I live in that world, and I've lined it thoroughly with my own comforts. I have a semblance of control; I organize, clean up, outline, plan. I do nothing twice: I rush through and complete and accomplish. Sometimes these things are connected and coherent and full of meaning. Other times, other Sunday mornings when devastating news lights up my smartphone, those routines are meaningless, stark and empty.
So I'll turn away from the screens and the tasks and instead do something again and again. I'll exult in the monotony of dishes and gardening and diapers because here is something good, right, whole. I'll let her stay innocent—I'll learn something about innocence from her. Mother Teresa told us, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family." That's world-changing because a loved family turns around and loves—because that kind of investment pays everyone back in kindness, peace, equality and respect.
If you're at home today, on the Monday after a bloody Sunday, wondering what to do, how to help, where to go—stay there and love your family. Raise those tiny humans to change the world.