At the dinner table on Monday night, builder-husband got a call from his Dad. There are no phones allowed at the dinner table unless it’s an emergency. But this didn’t seem like an emergency. Builder-husband’s shoulders were relaxed, “What about the sky right now?” he said into the phone. Builder-husband’s father has a very loud and distinctive voice. We couldn’t hear his exact words, but we knew the cadence enough to identify him just by the excited rise and fall of his tone. He just sounded like the adults in A Charlie Brown Christmas, so the children and I all sat around and made wah-wah-wah-wah-wahwah-wahhh noises so loudly builder-husband had to jam his finger in his open ear just to hear. (No phones at the table, after all.) After they rang off, builder-husband looked at us and said, “Get your jackets and your shoes. There’s something we have to see.”
“What is it?”
“I can’t tell you; you just have to wait and see. Follow me.”
We walked out of our woods toward the pond so we could see the sky.
“There,” he said pointing to the west, “Jupiter and Saturn, as close as they’ve been in 600 some years. They almost look like one star. It’s called The Great Conjunction, I think.”
We stood and gazed for a time, “they almost don’t look real,” said the oldest son. We walked home once our toes and fingers got cold.
“You know, son,” builder-husband said to the oldest son over his shoulder, “Mom would probably love to hold your hand right now. If it’s okay with you.”
He held out his hand to me, it’s a little bigger than mine now, and we interlaced fingers as we walked home. I don’t think he’ll let me hold his hand anywhere but in the dark. I clung on to that hand and tried to put as much warmth and love into as I could. It’s not long now before he won’t be walking beside me holding my hand. He’ll move on, like he’s supposed to, to hold someone else’s hand in just a little while. He’d be exasperated and embarrassed if he knew I wrote this about him. But here we are. While he’s here, while he’s close and willing, I’m going to hold on so he knows, at some kind of cellular level that I am with him and for him. That I love him.
I taught him about conjunctions in language arts today, these little bitty unassuming words that connect things in a sentence and lead to elegant, complex, beautiful prose: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. There are more, but those are the main ones. The connective tissue of language, bringing things close in together, just like the planets. Just like my little family as we obediently and expectantly walked toward the pond in the dark on Monday night.
There are stories I tell myself sometimes—you know the ones—the worst ones, the half-truths, the old stories full of assumptions and insecurities that have been taken out and rewritten so many times across the years that they’ve transformed into something else entirely. They turn into some kind of angry dragon crossed with the meanest defense attorney crossed with a judgmental mother-in-law on her very worst day. These stories get real loud when I am alone in the dark, when my strength is spent and my resolve worn thin.
There was a real, solid chance that I’d tell myself these stories and believe them on Monday night, the darkest night of the year.
Except for the conjunctions. Stories need conjunctions.
I can tell myself the worst possible story, but then, I need to tack on some great conjunctions.
For example, just this week, I told myself something along these lines:
I’m not even worth texting back (OR my friend is up to her eyebrows at work and can’t see straight.)
I am the worst possible mother on the planet (OR I am simply very tired right now and need to ask for some help.)
I went completely postal on my children today (AND now I will apologize and model humility.)
Just like the planets in the sky on the darkest night of the year, these little words offer a pivot, a refresh, a new way of thinking, a different voice, a new narrative that will take me further out of myself and reconnect me to the people I need.
I just need to listen for them. Just like builder-husband listened to his Dad so we could see a sight. Just like my children listened to their father. Just like my oldest son listened to his father so I could hold his hand.
Conjunctions draw us near to one another—in the language we speak, in the stories we tell ourselves. They ask us to listen for alternatives, for a better path, for surprising connections on the darkest nights.
In the story of Christmas, it might be the greatest conjunction ever—FOR God so loved the world.
Such little words change whole worlds.