Tears come easily to me (something my siblings and later on, my children have all commented on) and as I walked up familiar trails, through the woods and around campfire sites, I couldn't help but be touched. In many ways I had a charmed childhood. Every summer my sisters and I entered into another world staffed with energetic, caring counselors who headed up activities at the pool, craft barn, and archery range, to name just a few. It was a whirlwind of fun, grounded in meaningful connections, all set in the beautiful Pennsylvania woods. Whether or not I recognized it at the time, in retrospect I look back and realize what an amazing life it was.
It reminded me of a passage from The Cellist of Sarajevo, a novel by Steven Galloway I've recently finished reading. This story is set during the horrific siege of Sarajevo, when for four years the city was shelled daily, and life became a living hell. Arrow, one of the four characters the book follows, is recruited to become an army sniper. She tries desperately to hold on to her humanity, forced to become a person she never wanted to be. One afternoon, while lying prone in a burned out building, waiting for her next target to come into view, she recalls this scene from her childhood.
Ten years ago, when she was eighteen and was not called Arrow, she borrowed her father's car and drove to the countryside to visit friends. It was a bright, clear day, and the car felt alive to her, as though the way she and the car moved together was a sort of destiny, and everything was happening exactly as it ought to be. As she rounded a corner one of her favorite songs came on the radio, and sunlight filtered through the trees the way it does with lace curtains, reminding her of her grandmother, and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Not for her grandmother, who was then still very much among the living, but because she felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. It overwhelmed her, made her pull the car to the side of the road. Afterward she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.
Now, however, she knows she wasn't being foolish. She realizes that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It's a rare gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won't last forever.
Life doesn't last forever, at least this life on this earth won't. Childhood moves on to adulthood; people leave us and we experience loss. But those moments of pure happiness feed our souls. No matter when we encounter them, they are gifts to remind us of how wonderful life can be.