When I think of Sarah’s childhood, this is the face I see.
I find myself reflecting on her childhood more often these days, because each morning when she comes down the stairs for breakfast, she just looks a bit older than the day before.
I know she’s still a child. And like most middle schoolers, she would surely scream in protest at that thought. But even she would have to agree that she’s no longer a child like this.
Each day I realize how true the warnings from parents before me are. Children grow up.
And that’s why I find myself trying to hold onto scraps of paper with scribbled notes or hastily drawn pictures that are growing more polished with each passing day, or reaching for her hand when I walk from the car to the store, or inviting her to sit with me as she watches yet another episode of the television show I absolutely hate. But I do these things because I know the truth. “She’ll soon be gone.”
Lately I find myself thinking about how she will remember her childhood. Will she picture the joy that such simple things as a cicada on her nose brought her? Or a break from helping me in the office to play on the playground behind the church?
Or will she forget those carefree moments as she remembers the series of disappointments that these recent years have brought her?
What will she remember from these fleeting days of her childhood?
In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote “that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home.” He suggests that good, sacred memories from our childhood are the things which carry us to the end of our days. And that even one good memory from childhood, if held in our heart, may serve one day for our salvation.
To be honest, there are a lot of stories from her childhood that I hope she forgets. But there are some moments so sacred that have power to carry her to the end of her life, if she holds them in her heart as Dostoevsky suggests.
One of those sacred moments happened just a few Saturdays ago.
Sarah had spent Friday night at a school lock-in, and I had gone over early the next morning to get her. As we made our way home, just before the snows were about to fall, we saw a dog running beside the busy street.
We slowed down, and the dog started to run after our car. And Sarah’s heart just broke open and there was nothing else to do but stop.
I pulled into an empty parking lot on the other side of the street, muttering to myself about the futility of this diversion, and the dog followed, barely avoiding getting hit by a passing bus.
We stepped out of the car to try to get the dog to come to us, but he was too scared. He kept running from us, even though you could tell he wanted to draw near.
He finally went to the far side of the car to get away from us, found that I had left my door open, and decided to scramble in, where he took his place on the passenger seat. All I could think of was an old story by Garrison Keillor about a car and an elephant that included the phrase, “Father error.”
It certainly wasn’t an elephant, but I was stuck with an injured and bleeding dog that was covered in burrs and who was so scared he was shaking. And I was also stuck with the knowledge that the only reason I was in this fix was that my daughter cared and inspired me to do so too.
As we drove away from the SPCA shelter that is not too far off the normal route between school and home, we began to talk about this dog that had captured our hearts. And we haven’t stopped talking yet.
I think Dostoevsky’s novel gets it right:
“Let us remember how good it was once here, when we were…together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us, for the time we were loving that poor (dog), better perhaps than we are.”
As she moves from childhood into the rest of her life, I hope she carries this story in her heart. It may indeed be her salvation. As it is now mine.