I have a lot of siblings; and when I was little, we always had more than one triple decker set of bunks. My stuffed animals and I slept at the top, where we were thrust — not quite to the stars — but right up to the spackle on the ceiling.
By day, I would stand on a chair at the stove, boiling noodles for my large family: I pretended I was a seacook, boiling an octopus. Or I would stand on a chair at the sink to wash up, ladling the greasy used dishwater back into all the clean dishes. Fortunately (because ladling is tricky when you’re tossed by waves), I was no longer sailing the high sea: I was a gypsy-charlatan with a vat of magic elixer. I needed the clean dishes to dispense it amongst the peasants.
But by night I memorized the nodes and flourishes on the spackled ceiling. They formed fantastic pictures, scenes from stories I half guessed, but could never quite tell. When I traced them out, my fingers came away white, and a bit of powdery crust fell in my face.
Now that I am older and wiser, and no longer sleep within an abrupt armspan of the ceiling, I’m not at all eager to boil an octopus. And I would feel stricken in soul if I hoodwinked a peasant. But I still see pictures all over the mundane surfaces of a house. It’s what my eyes find if I stare at any quirk of puckered paint long enough: the quirk comes into focus around a cat with a cape and a walking stick, going on a pilgrimage; or a child blowing the West Wind, and riding a wolf. The images intrigue me until I have to draw them out so someone else can see (not on the wall, however; I gave up coloring on walls some years ago).
They’re so different than the things I come up with just out of my own head. They whisper stories I guess at, but can’t yet tell.
I think there is much in the texture of life that is like this. The shape of painful events is often frighteningly senseless and baffling. And even apart from its pain, grown-up life turns out to be a lot of iterated and irksome tasks; it faces us around with boring boundaries. If we stop and stare at the crinkles and ridges, or trace the little flourishes of our days that crumble if we push too hard, the pattern doesn’t readily translate into meaning. But God is drawing and coloring. We are growing in some eternal grace.
Someday we’ll see it — there in the cracks and contours that walled us and roofed us in. And it will be more awing than all the things our imagination guessed and fingered, so unlike what we could have come up with out of our own heads.
Can you see these pictures in the spackle?