~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Best Day Ever

June 21, 2020
My six-year-old son and I are standing outside the classroom door. It's a cold and dreary Wednesday morning, and we've just muddled through the before-school ritual of dress-eat-gather-and dash out the door. We're standing here with a few other kids and assorted parents, waiting for the day to begin.

Mrs. Walter opens the classroom door, peeks her head into the hallway, and waves to her students. Kids pick up their oversized backpacks, mumble their goodbyes, and slowly make their way toward their beloved teacher's open arms.

I spy my friend Amy near the door. I watch her kneel down in front of her son. She places her hands on this small boy's shoulders and looks directly into his eyes, as if  - for this moment - no one else in the world exists.

"Best day ever," she chirps with a smile. And then she kisses her son on the cheek and dashes down the art-strewn hallway and off into her day.

I think about this moment all day long. It was an instant, really, over in two breaths. It would have been so easy to miss in the crowded corridor and in our own goodbyes. But something about what I witnessed won't let me go. Like a bell peeling through the sky, that moment startled me out of my self-absorbed reverie and awakened some possibility within.

Best Day Ever. Could this grey and ice-strewn day in the thick of midwestern winter possibly be the best day we've ever had? Is it, perhaps, over-reaching a bit to suggest that this is the best day ever to a six-year-old boy on a cold morning inside a little school in a nondescript city in Ohio? And on a Wednesday in January, no less?

Amy's words ring through the morning, as my toddler and I putter about at home, cleaning up the oatmeal and lying on the carpet with legos and the cats, counting the hours until we schlepp back to school to retrieve big brother.

Best Day Ever. Is it a wish, as in, "I hope you have the best day ever?"

Is it an instruction, like, "Please do what you can to make this the best day in the world?"

Or, perhaps, it is a truth, a revelation: "You may not see it right now, but if you incline your eyes in just the right way, you will see that this ordinary day is actually the best day ever - the only chance you have to be fully alive - in the whole wide world."
A few days later, with snow melting into slush, Amy and I meet again in front of the classroom door. When the door opens, Amy repeats the same goodbye with her son: a hug, a kiss and a "Best day ever." This is a ritual, I see, a parting offering she leaves with her son every single day.

I begin to look forward to hearing her sing out these words in the morning rush, as if some of the shininess of her blessing might spill in our direction. Her words echo through my brain and rekindle some hopeful warmth in my heart. I begin to wonder whether my family, too, could make this the best day ever. Maybe we could try a little harder, rising to the challenge of making something beautiful and bright with the gift of this day we have been given. But what would that even look like?

Best Day Ever. This is a strange memory to slip to the surface right now, with a pandemic rolling across the globe, leaving grief and devastation in its wake. The world seems to be falling apart, with society's weakest links painfully exposed, and with so many people suffering so deeply. What will the world look like in a year? Who will have jobs and who will be hungry? Who will be alive and who will be dead? Will we still be social distancing, hungry for connection and adventure in the world? Panic floods my chest when I peer too far into our collective future. This time feels so much like a purgatory, as if we're all just waiting for the other cosmic shoe to drop.

My panic eases, though, when I reel my mind in from the distant future and rest it closer to the here-and-now. Life feels a little more manageable when I focus my eyes on the lilies bursting into bloom in the garden, on the hot mug of tea in my hands, on the voices of my children right by my side. Maybe the answer - now and always - is to take good care of the present and trust that the future will take care of itself.

It's that old story about driving at night down a country road: Your headlights only need to throw enough light to see a little way down the road, and in that way, mile by mile, the headlights guide us safely home. The more distant future is too much to grasp. But perhaps we can gracefully manage the gift of this day, this moment, this breath.

Or, as theologian Henri Nouwen wrote: "The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step that follows, with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away."

Best Day Ever. What if this is the answer to the question of how to manage this scary time? What if the answer is right in front of us, in this breath, right here and right now? What if we take up the challenge of shining brightly today? What if we use this moment to bridge the gap between ourselves and others, to live into the deep and mysterious connections that bind us together through love? What if we use our energy to shine a little light into the world, right now, today, in whatever way we can?

This possibility echoes through my mind each morning, as I sip my tea and contemplate the day ahead. Best Day Ever fills me with possibility and hope. It feels like a challenge we are invited to rise to meet, with strength and a tender heart. I breathe in the freshness of the morning, gaze at the twittering of the birds, and squint into the rays of the rising sun. I peer into the long stretch of the day ahead, and I ponder how I can coax life into deepest bloom, not just for myself but for others, too.

Maybe today we'll make super-thick chocolate milkshakes and sip them in the backyard while looking at the vast blue sky. Maybe we'll sit shoulder-by-shoulder at the puzzle table, with an audio book droning on beside us. Maybe we'll head down the road together in the dimming light to watch the sun set over the neighborhood field. Maybe we'll create something beautiful: music or stories or cards to send to faraway friends.

This might be a good day to make a phone call to a friend who is living alone. To dig our fingers into the dirt and urge our gardens into bloom. To start a compost pile, perhaps. To reach out to others, near and far, and to rise up in ways that allow others to have Best Days, too. Maybe we can use today's blank slate to educate ourselves about the world and its struggles, to contemplate how we can contribute to a stronger, healthier, happier world for all. The possibilities are endless.

I must admit, some mornings this feels like a high bar to reach toward. And on these days, when my heart feels heavy and tight, I soften with a sigh into the possibility that today might be a Good Enough Day, or, perhaps, the Best Day We Can Manage, Given the Circumstances. Or at the very least, a Day with at Least a Few Shining Moments. Even so, this feels like a hopeful response to the morning light, and far better than the alternative of curling up into a little ball and waiting breathlessly for the storm to pass.

Who wants to emerge from our caves in a year or more, blinking into the bright sun, feeling like we've lost a year of our lives? And if disaster does strike between now and then, wouldn't the proper response have been to have leaned into the light even then, making the most of whatever time together we've been given?

And so, with a nod of thanks to Amy and that long ago moment, I offer up the gift of the Best Day Ever. Who knows what the future may bring? Who knows how long this pandemic will last? In the meantime, let's do our best to string together one Best Day after another, filled with laughter and connection and presence and love, not just for ourselves but also for the greater world.

The ancient sages once taught that each day is a lifetime, and the world is born anew each day. The sun rises and a new life is placed into our hands. It is ours to do with what we like - to squander or to savor. We have until the sun sets this evening to bring our world into fullest light and fullest bloom. And then it is gone forever.

Night falls and then tomorrow, if we are lucky, the sun will rise again. And another Best Day Ever will be born.