As I washed the dishes a few nights ago, my wife built a fire with my 22-month old son. While the winter flakes blew around our cabin outside, they sat on the hearth and watched the small flickering crawl up the pile of kindling and newspaper. Then the aspen and oak caught flame on their fringes. Then, like a swelling symphony, everything went up at once with a timpani of popping, sizzling, and smoking.
“Fire is amazing,” my wife said from across the warm room.
Imagine being an early human and being asked, “What if you mixed some oxygen, heat, and wood together, what would happen?” I doubt anyone would have guessed the beautiful fingers of yellows, golds, blues, and reds that magically spring to life and dance for spectators, sustaining the heat, eating the wood. Fire came from the land of unicorns, rainbows and silver apples.
What kind of magic is in this universe that springs forth flame? Secrets flicker here we know not of.
The following morning, my son insists, even before we climb out of bed, that he wants that thing by the bed. He points and babbles words that we should understand. “The guitar?” I ask. “Yeah,” he nods.
I take it to him, holding it for him to strum as I finger the chords. He fluffs his hand over the soundhole, making the strings sing. “Isn’t music incredible?” my wife said.
We talked about it, looking at the frets down the neck of the guitar, each dot and line showing the scales. Visual music. I remembered studying Pythagoras for a graduate project and his discovery of musical notes corresponding to numbers. Take a string and pluck it, you have one note. Half the string, and you’ve jumped an octive. Half it again, and so on. He called it the music of the spheres… the harmony of the universe. Music trapped in numbers that magically escape by plucking.
The next morning, I hear my wife teaching my son about the seed he spit out from his grapefruit slice. “That’s a seed. You bury it in dirt outside and it becomes a plant.” Later she retells the story to me, “That explanation must have sounded weird. A seed under dirt becomes a plant?” With the right eyes, we know this world is no ordinary place. The farmer plants and waters. But something heavenly makes it sprout that is not in the farmer’s tools but in his prayers.
That evening, walking along our snowy path from the garage to home, we looked up at the sky. A moonless night. The passel of stars. The same ones Abraham saw every night from his pillow, looking up at his decedents and hanging on to promise.
Magic everywhere, if we use our better eyes. The kindling of fire is no less magical than the parting of a sea. The strumming of a song as fascinating as trumpets laying down city walls. The stars in their heavenly dance as magical as a voice raising the dead with words.
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.*
* “What a Wonderful World,” written by George David Weiss and George Douglas, and Bob Thiele. Performed by Louis Armstrong.
Image credit: images.wikia.com/narnia