Just So Hopeful

By Anna Mitchael

My younger son asked me the other day

What would happen if dinosaurs showed up to walk the Earth again.

“Wouldn’t happen,” I answered. He just sat there. Stoic. Quiet. Practicing for how he’s going to ask me for a car in a decade. He’s 6 but already knows how to break me.

“Sorry, bud,” I said. His name isn’t Buddy, but since he isn’t a teenager yet and I can still get away with it, I sometimes enjoy casually positioning myself as his best friend.

He just continued to stare.

“I know what you’re thinking about,” I said. I started blinking more than normal, hoping that might trick him into blinking too. Sometimes when I’m in meetings at work I do the same thing, but with yawning. Isn’t it so ridiculous how some people say we stop having fun when we get older?

“Spring break,” I went on. “You’re thinking back to March, when I told you there was no way you’d end up with a long spring break.”

His mouth moved a little, into what would be called a satisfied smile on an adult. But satisfied smiles seem to have agendas behind them, and he’s too young for that. I think.

“You might also be remembering,” I conceded, “how I said there was no way — absolutely no way, no how — that you’d stay home longer than a few weeks in April. But then you were home until August.”

At this, I thought I saw in his eyes a flash of pity. He must remember how sure I was. How I sucked up all my adult bravado and explained to him that these things just don’t happen. That the world simply doesn’t work this way. (Emphasis mine. Emphasis always mine. Because emphasis is one of the few tools a person can cling to when the world is working in a way you no longer understand.)

And really, it’s never been the candles on the cake that made me feel like I was getting older, instead it’s been just those kinds of gaps in understanding. I have heard myself in the last year, more times than I want to remember, wishing my children could have the naivete I took for granted when I was little. My mother and father had answers. When the world was confusing, I could go to them and they could explain it. Quite often these days, I’m wishing for those good ole days.

A friend of mine, much wiser than I am, says it’s an opportunity. The sooner they learn the world can’t be trusted — that people, even parents, are fallible — they will find the meaning of faith. I want that for them. Yet I still find myself clinging to the idea that I can arrange the world to be “just so.” Just so safe. Just so predictable.

“Don’t you think,” my son finally said, “I have even a small chance of seeing a dinosaur?”

Even a small chance. A tiny one. A miniature, microsliver of a chance.

I was so ready to say: “Impossible.” But then I thought, maybe this is the very least we could give ourselves. If we’ve learned to wrap our minds around so many things that went wrong — things we couldn’t have fathomed before the last year — why not also stay open to the unbelievable that might go right?

“I’m changing my answer,” I told him. “I think there’s a chance.”

Around the next bend. Over the next hill. You never know what might be waiting. Keep the faith.

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