“All right, Missy, are you ready?”
Sitting up in bed, Missy grinned her crooked smile and nodded. I set our bedtime book to one side.
“Ok, close your eyes.”
Two hands eagerly went up to her face.
“Take a breath … no peeking now … here we go.”
Carefully, I picked up a tiny photo album of hers, one she loved to page through. And set it with great delicacy on top of her head.
“One … two … three ….”
Missy waited through the count, trembling with excitement as the album balanced precariously … but without falling. On “10,” I removed the book and she broke out in joyful laughter.
“You did it, Miss!”
That’s what happens when your nighttime reading takes a turn for the Force-ful.
For about 10 years now, Missy’s bedtime story has been an unbreakable ritual. We’ve journeyed with Bilbo Baggins and studied with Harry Potter. We’ve peeked into The Secret Garden, cracked the riddles of The Westing Game, and laughed loud and long as Anne Shirley broke her slate over a classmate’s head before returning to Green Gables. In the process, my wife Heather and I have seen how engaged Missy becomes and how her developmental disability is no barrier to following the plot or caring deeply about the characters.
This time around, we’ve been able to mix in something different. The story is a familiar one, a junior-level take on The Empire Strikes Back titled “So You Want to Be a Jedi?” But the take is unusual, placing the reader in the role of Luke Skywalker and offering “Jedi training exercises” in between each chapter.
The first ones simply involve closing your eyes in peace for a few brief moments, learning to quiet yourself and concentrate. Then it adds simple (and often silly) things. Like balancing a book on your head. Or batting aside thrown socks without opening your eyes. Or balancing a book while batting away thrown socks without opening your eyes.
For Missy, it’s a fun way to show off. It also, in disguise, is a neat little lesson in balance, awareness and mindfulness.
And time and again, they start in the same place. Take a moment. Close your eyes. Breathe.
That’s valuable no matter how old you are.
And it’s something that’s oh-so-easy to forget.
We’ve all had a lot more than socks thrown at us lately. From the personal to the national, we’ve had worlds upset, lives overturned, familiar things disrupted and shaken and broken. Stress and worry pile up on every side, and not without reason.
Everything demands our attention and concern, but there’s still only one of us. It’s easy to become a balloon in a hurricane, tossed this way and that before something finally makes everything pop.
In the midst of that, taking a step back sounds impossible. Like Luke trying to lift his own X-wing, the situation just seems too overpoweringly big to get a grip on.
But that’s when a place of peace matters most.
It doesn’t have to be long. But it does have to be. Just for a few moments. Just long enough to set the shouting of the world aside and find your own thoughts again.
It’s hard. We live in a world of urgency and “do it now!” where action is valued over contemplation. And finding that moment doesn’t solve the problem – but it puts us in a better place to understand it, to see rather than just react.
Take that moment. Find that place. It’ll probably take practice. But it may just give a bit of balance in return.
And if that balance involves a photo album, Missy’s got a trick she’d like to show you.