There are moments that are pure magic.
Moments in life that had you held the sovereign power to paint the canvas of that memory exactly as you would want, you wouldn’t change a detail. A moment where an unexpected experience shows up perfectly and takes your breath away.
Such was a moment last week when my family and I found ourselves perfectly positioned to see this…
two dozen floating lanterns set aflame and launched on a backdrop of dusky, sunset blue.
It was my 42nd birthday.
We spent the day together as a family. We had no agenda; except to be together and to make sure I didn’t cook all day. We slept in, kept the school books on the shelf, picked up birthday donuts at a local bakery, did a little shopping, and took our first family walk in our new neighborhood. I also wanted to visit the falls. Just past the buildings of downtown is Falls Park, a destination that’s never disappointed me. It’s an oasis of rose quartzite and falling (sometimes frozen) water. Upon arrival, I decided we should head toward an overlook we’d never walked before. The kids ran on ahead while Paul and I followed slowly in the soft glow of a reasonably warm March evening.
By the time we reached the railing of the overlook, our kids were wondering aloud about a group of people lined up on the bridge across the river from us.
A single flame appeared. Then a second. And a third. On and on until it was clear we were about to have front row seats to something special. As each lantern was released, heat lifted the flame up with it's illumination highlighted against an twilight, South Dakota sky. An unexpected, perfectly timed, and most beautiful birthday gift that took my breath away.
But here’s the thing…
Sometimes, in life, our breath is stolen for entirely different reasons. There are moments where magic fades and the crucible of pain ushers in an intensity so great that we can’t seem to inhale…or exhale. No breath to take or give.
These are the times when struggle, grief, and loss turn you topsy-turvy, and finding your way to right-side-up is a fire that sometimes rages and sometimes is a slow burn. Either way it’s consuming and to what end that consummation results is a mystery in the midst of the fire. The flames could be friend or foe, blessing or curse. The flames could refine us or burn us to a crisp; melt the wax facade of our soul or harden our heart to impenetrable stone.
There’s an engulfing heat in battle that suffocates. A baptizing inferno that leaves nothing untouched as it rips the oxygen from your soul. In the middle of it all, when the mercury is rising, all you want is cool relief. Even the smallest breath of air could provide strength for the next moment…or preferably, permanent respite.
The irony is that without the fire, nothing would be truly altered. Transformation requires heat and heat always changes things. The unwanted truth might just be that to experience magical moments that take our breath away we must be willing to endure the moments that commandeer our air with its strong-arming pain.
Fire - present in the magic and the struggle.
Heat - in floating luminaries and heavy burdens.
Heat burns, boils, rages.
Heat also rises...
and raises things.
42 year olds,
and orange embers in an inky blue, South Dakota sky.