On the morning when we bought a talking camel, December 2011, Jerusalem, Israel
“Okay, buddy, one more page.”
Whit nodded and kept reading his current book, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods. We were sitting in my bed reading together, which is always a highlight of my day. How long will he eagerly run downstairs and jump into bed to read next to me? I stood up and he turned down the corner of the the page and slowly we headed up to his bedroom.
He climbed into his lower bunk and pulled up his covers as I turned off the overhead light and switched on the nightlight, which is in the shape of a Bruins zamboni and was a Christmas present from Grace last year. Whit made sure he had the four special animals that he sleeps with. I kneeled by his bed. I love bedtime. Every single time I tuck a child in and say “I’ll see you in the morning” I am aware of what an incandescent privilege it is.
I leaned over to kiss his forehead as he whispered the same prayers he says every night.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.”
He sat up in surprise. The sing-songy voice of a camel that we bought in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives spoke from the top bunk.
Matt’s laugh erupted from the top bunk as he sat up. Both Whit and I started laughing too, and I heard Grace’s footsteps on the stairs as she dashed up to join us. An aside: much like Whit reading with me in bed, another thing I am clinging to, and loving, even as I know its days are numbered is Grace thundering to join the rest of the family when she hears us laughing. This reminds me of knowing the tide’s coming in and building sandcastles anyway …
Grace clambered into bed with Whit, and Matt joined them once he’d climbed down the ladder. He was still squeezing the camel, whose robotic voice kept saying “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Ordinary life is a slurry of mundane moments which is occasionally dotted with a glittering experience of dazzling beauty. I know that being aware of and awake to that slurry allows us to see the glimmer. I also know that it’s unusual for me to be aware, as I live a moment, that it is one of those that I’ll think back to and remember. In fact I write a lot about how complex and unknowable is the algorithm through which experience becomes memory. Last week’s laughter-filled bedtime was a rare experience of knowing even as I lived a series of minutes that they would become a cherished stone in my memory’s pocket, burnished from being held, turned over, recalled.
Will it be one of Grace’s and Whit’s, a moment that stands out in their recollections of their childhood? I can’t know. I think of the Pat Conroy quote from The Prince of Tides that I used as an epigraph to an essay I wrote in high school:
There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory.
I hope that sliver of time last week, the minutes we all shared in Whit’s nightlight-lit room, laughing hard and remembering a chilly, windy morning on the Mount of Olives when the children bought talking camels will be a part of Grace and Whit’s bright freight of memory of these years. It will be for me.
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