One of Those Snakes

We are now leaving the season of gifts and getting back to normal life where we work for the things we get. I hope you can think about last Christmas season fondly and the buzz of the sugar and new toys is still lingering a bit. I hope you got to be around some kids at Christmas this year. They are truly the best way to experience the holidays.

I bet one of the reasons we want to be near to children at Christmas-time is because we are desperate to feel surprise again. In most cases we know what’s in the box. That is no surprise to me. I want the half-second of recognition on their faces when they discover the shiny thing underneath the paper. 

Surprise means so much to me. It’s at the center of what I do for a living. It’s the reward to my constant curiosity. It’s the fleeting contact with eternity that I get in this temporal space. In surprise is the flash of fear or hope. It can be tragic or comic but I love it most when, like the apostle John, It is a revelation. A presentation of reality that obliterates the rules of life as we know it.

I love surprise in just about any form but sometimes I’m a bit sad that the gifts we give are ultimately so unsatisfying and made of the broken stuff of our dust planet. 

I am discouraged by how we thrill so easily and how easily we can lose the thrill, too.

It makes me think about when I took my family to the Museum of Nature and Science for Dayli’s birthday last November. I’m grateful for the wonder for the natural world that both of my girls are cultivating these days. Dayli especially loves the space exhibit where her imagination extends beyond the ozone which traps the dreams of so many other children. One of our family’s recent favorite exhibit was the Poison Exhibit. It’s a history of toxicity and an education in a subject that on the surface seems simple but in reality is much more complex. It depends on dosage size, (the difference between life and death could be the difference between 3 and 4 tablets of tylenol) Who/what you are (chocolate is poison to dogs but great for humans). The Penicillium fungi, accidentally grown from a petri dish of "staph" is responsible for the “miracle drug” of the 1930’s Penicillin. Even today scientists use toxins from snake venom in treatments for spinal diseases. In poison is the mysterious combination of life and death. It seems to hold both charges at the same time. The effect I guess all depends on who you are. 

As we were leaving the exhibit I saw them. The 4 foot stuffed snake she had fallen in love with at a friend’s house. The same snake that she wailed over when it was time to leave and they were parted forever. 

That snake. 

It was only a matter of time before she saw it and so I geared up for the pleading, bargaining and begging that was sure to follow. Thankfully, I could hold my ground this time because I knew that I would not be buying this snake today. I had purchased one weeks ago and it was presently wrapped and sitting on the coffee table at home. However, this is information Dayli did not have. Therefore, when she eventually saw the snake her desire ignited once again to have a cuddly snake to wrap around her as she slept at night and this gift was more in her grasp than ever before because today was her birthday! Of course every six-year old knows you get everything you want on your birthday! Imagine the cruelty of a parent who, knowing full well that it is YOUR BIRTHDAY, refuses you the one object of your desire. What a cry went up from the earth, a bitter and heart-breaking wail flowed out for several minutes. So intense was her anger and grief that we needed to withdraw and talk it out for a while. She was convinced that since I was not giving her what she demanded that I must be evil and she began to build her defenses against my assault. In her mind I had betrayed her. I had told her that I loved her and clearly I was not giving her the “only thing” she really wanted, therefore, there was no love in my heart for her.

What could I do? I certainly didn’t want her to hate me and I didn’t want her to suffer and yet I also wanted to preserve for her the surprise that was waiting for her in mere hours. Should I ruin the surprise in order to stop her current suffering or withhold the knowledge for a time to protect the joy I know she and I will feel when she opens the gift that has already been purchased. I opted to bear her scowls and curses and sit with her. The only thing I could ask of her that might give a shred of hope was just, “Dayli, do you trust me?” “Yes, but…” was her repeated response. After a while I just stopped asking. When she settled down a bit more, we went to see the IMAX movie about the space mission to Mars. The first manned shuttle will be leaving in only 14 years. I wonder what surprises await us?

Here is the video of Dayli reunited with her snake (incidentally the same color and design as the one she wanted most from the museum.) I know I can say I was at least as happy as she was just experiencing the gasps of recognition and the look on her face when she saw that, silly, glorious, insignificant and beautiful poisonous snake.