It is nothing short of the miraculous, but it is rarely what I planned to happen. Like most real-life miracles, it does not come about when and how I anticipate. There was the week pinpointed in advance by friends for mutual cabin days, for example, when we would come together under the banner of friendship and food a few hours north of the Twin Cities. But instead-
Instead, I spend a week of mornings running around with children in woods closer to home. We stain our tongue with wild black raspberries and try nibbling on sticky milkweed. Yes, you can bring your pocketknife tomorrow. Did you really just put that toad in a bird's nest? Have you ever read My Side of the Mountain? Let's imagine what it would be like to take on a bear with nothing more than your ingenuity and a hatchet. Let's try building a fire on a windy day. Let's try to remember a world before your Xbox and my iPhone. In that world, I am struck by how the lives of all the creatures intertwine in our magnificent universe, and I am one of those threads.
A boy stands in a village in the deserted plains of Gaoua City. His life of survival is no game, no summer camp activity. Today, an airplane flies right over him. He pauses on his way to an errand for his grandmother to admire the huge body of the MD-83, its shining wings. He wants to be a pilot someday. That's what he wrote to his American "godparents" last time. The boy does not know it (no one on the plane does yet), but on July 23, 2014, that mighty machine will crash less than an hour later in neighboring Mali to the north. It will be the third major plane disaster in a week, the second in an area of civil unrest. The boy will continue on his way to the market, wondering if the Americans ever have the luck to go aboard an airplane, whether they will return his letter from February, and if they'll remember his birthday gift.
In a post office somewhere in the United States sits a package with numbers and letters scrawled on the outside that will eventually carry its contents to the eager hands of that same little boy halfway across the world. An airplane will fly it to Ouagadougou - where the failed passenger plane had departed from - and then by truck over bumpy roads to a remote, dusty area with little agricultural promise. And yes, there is a letter inside. It is in French, which means that he'll understand it without the need of translation. And yes, the Americans are going to climb into a magnificent flying contraption very soon. It will take them to a different desert, in Nevada and California - to celebrate ten years of marriage. (Speaking of miracles.)
"There are times when it is easy to go numb, when it is easy to forget that you sit in a box of metal, dug from the earth and alloyed, shaped by the men and robots of Detroit. I don't care that I sit three feet above the ground in a machine with the soul and strength of (muffled) explosions. Horses are for recreation; my harnesses are hitched to pounding bursts of fire, and they pull me (gently, please) without complaint, while I collect invisible waves from the air with a magic metal wand and turn them into orchestras, pop stars, and indignant voices complaining about the war...It is easy to be numb to the world's marvels when you've missed lunch and the light is still red." (92, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, N.D. Wilson).
Thing #46 that makes me less numb: when my summer doesn't turn out the way I plan.
Thing #47: Well-arranged words that make things strange again (e.g., aforementioned Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl).
Thing #47: Statistics. But only when effectively linked to real people's faces.
The little card about the boy from Burkina Faso that we received when we first agreed to sponsor him tells us that it is one of the poorest countries in the world and that most adults are unemployed. The children are largely malnourished. Literacy rate: 22%. But Bienvenu is learning how to read. I wonder. Will this mean he'll have a better diet? Will his children have jobs? He told us that besides being a pilot, he'd like to raise animals. I picture what it will be like for him to open his package, with photos tumbling out - images of a couple of Americans and a flock of chickens from halfway around the world. I hope that it is the beginning of something marvelous for him and for us. Miraculous, even.