On your 7th Birthday
We spent Spring Break last week in Santa Barbara, visiting friends and soaking in the sun that has hidden its face from us longer than usual this past Winter. As I think back on our trip I am struck, Isaiah, by you. You, especially. We had a grand time, all four of us, but something about you seemed particularly luminescent on this trip. In my mind’s eye, I can still see you with your head tilted to one side as you charmed one grown up after another with your earnest inquiries (“excuse me, I have a question”) and keen negotiation skills. I can still see you riding a skateboard through Mo and Dan’s kitchen, rolled up on Ruth’s bed with Eli-the-cat and feeding the birds with Kelly each morning.
But most of all, I see you surfing.
Papa borrowed a surfboard for the week and he spent much of every day in the ocean while the three of us stayed behind on the beach. The first day you ventured in the water for a bit to try some boogey boarding but you quickly grew cold and didn’t last long. The next day you declared that you would be surfing instead. Like Papa, you said.
And surf you did. You rode the shallow waves (with a push from Papa) on your knees over and over and over again. From my vantage point on the sand I watched with white knuckles and ropy neck as the water pulled you further and further from Papa and you coasted toward the shore. You fell umpteen times and after each topple I would anticipate the tears that I was sure would follow. But each time you popped back up ready to try again.
The next day you ventured out yet again and this time, after riding on your knees for several runs, you surprised all of us by standing up midway through your ride. In the too-big, baggy, borrowed wetsuit that sagged in the knees, the belly and the bottom, you stood up on the board and surfed. We couldn’t believe it! Brother and I cheered from the shore and Papa whooped from the water with his arms in the air. You did it again once more for good measure before marching triumphantly back across the sand, nodding proudly as we applauded your amazing feat.
This is how you have walked through life these first seven years, Isaiah. You continually surprise and bewitch us with your bravery and perseverance (even in the cold Pacific Ocean), your “whatevs” attitude, your sensitive and watchful spirit, and your joyful exuberance over things like fresh snow and warm sand, animals both stuffed and real, and being with your people. This year you’ve also started asking layered and incisive questions about God and religion that have stretched my language for God and allowed me to reach out in new directions as I explore some of these complexities with you. Sometimes when you ask a particular question, I have the same sensation as when I saw you work your way upright out on the water last week; first surprise, then wonder, some fear and trembling, and finally awe that you are mine and that you belong to me.
Watching you out there on that surfboard felt a bit like a physical manifestation of the way you will be riding away from us more and more as you get older. Pain presses in on my chest when I consider it but, oh, the magic of watching you ride. The magic of seeing your slouched, wet-suited knees bent just so and that victorious smile when you coasted onto the shore. What joy was mine.
So, toes on the nose, Bup. And happy birthday.