The girl was so precocious. Not about everything, mind you. But by age one she had maybe 15 words and by two she was speaking in long sentences. She showed honest-to-goodness, highly imaginative pretend play before 18 months. She was reading by four. Every time we blinked, it seemed, she had learned something new. She learned so quickly that in mere days her new skills would become commonplace. Dan and I would look back and our memories would quickly grow fuzzy. There was often a sense of Hasn't she always known how to do that?
I didn't mean to, but sometimes I missed the wonder of what was happening in front of me.
Awhile back I read an incredible book by Philip Yancey called Soul Survivor. In it he talks about his relationship with Paul Brand, a famous physician well-known for his research and work with people who have leprosy.
If anyone has a right to bitterness or despair, it should be someone who works with these unfortunates. Instead, the single characteristic that most impressed me about Paul Brand was his bedrock sense of gratitude. For him, the universe is assuredly a friendly place.
How could a good God allow such a blemished world to exist? Brand had responded to my complaints one by one. Disease? Did I know that of the twenty-four thousand species of bacteria, all but a few hundred are healthful, not harmful? Plants could not produce oxygen, nor could animals digest food without the assistance of bacteria. Indeed bacteria constitute half of all living matter. Most agents of disease, he explain, vary from these necessary organisms in only slight mutations.
What about birth defects? He launched into a description of the complex biochemistry involved in producing one healthy child. The great wonder is not that birth defects occur but that millions more do not, he responded. Could a mistake-proof world have been created so that the human genome with its billions of variables would never err in transmission? No scientist could envision such an error-free system in our world of fixed physical laws.
Sometimes, like Brand's experience with his patients, it takes an encounter of a different kind to appreciate the wonder.
Unlike Anna, some (but certainly not all) of Ethan's milestones were longer in coming. Putting words together. Pretend play. Showing interest in peers, or even just showing me something, anything. Forming a mature pincher grasp. I think of the way Anna would pick up her cheerios with her chubby thumb and forefinger from the time she was 9 months old and I never gave it a second thought. I remember the way she was not much older than one when she took her two hands and made them talk and gave them names: Sarah and Fishy. We thought she was cute. We didn't appreciate the miracle of what was going on inside her brain, the millions of connections taking place enabling her to envision her little hands as people and making them converse.
I didn't see, until some of these things were missing or delayed, in Ethan. And as many of them have started to come...sometimes a year or even two years late, I realize I've been given two gifts.
I savor every little thing Ethan accomplishes. He says "Hi" for the first time to someone at Target and my heart floods with joy. He calls to a friend on the playground to come on the slide and I could watch and listen forever at the beauty of his attempt to make a connection.
There is more, though. There is no way I can ever again look past Anna's milestones, either. I better appreciate as a whole the profoundly complex work it is to, well, live the process of growing up.
One way I could describe them is as different views of two flowers about to bloom. Anna is the flower that blooms overnight. You wake in the morning and suddenly it's there in all its glory, a delightful surprise. And Ethan is like watching a similar flower bloom in one of those time-lapse photos or videos. Maybe this flower is missing a few petals; maybe its not completely symmetrical. But seeing the process of blooming in slower motion provides an incredible perspective of an intricate process. A little imperfection can't take away from the miracle. And you know you can't look at other flowers in bloom again without a measure of awe, remembering the experience they went through to get there.
These little wonders... - Rob Thomas