This time of year, we seem particularly tuned-in to the idea of miracles.
And – especially in a year like this – we may find ourselves with fingers crossed, hoping and praying for our own. Maybe nothing quite as big as a virgin birth, mind you, but plenty big to us, right now.
To stay (or become) healthy. To stay (or become) employed. For our communities to thrive again. To once again spend time with the people we love.
During hard or stressful times, I often find myself walking around with fists figuratively clenched, please, please, please echoing in my heart. And there’s nothing wrong with that: we’re all yearning for something, often something big.
But sometimes I think all that focusing on the big things I want can make it hard to notice the “little miracles” that happen all the time – or at least, much more often than the big, exciting ones.
Depending on your spiritual beliefs, a ‘miracle’ may mean very different things to you. Divine intervention, a manifestation of energy, or simply happy coincidences; no matter your take on how they happen, I think we can all agree that they happen – right?
And what I’m struck with is how often the right thing happens just when you need it most, and how they sometimes cluster together, as though purposefully set there to get your attention.
The other day, I actually experienced three “little miracles” within a three-hour period.
I was a little frayed at the edges that evening. Between shopping, gift-making, and trying to figure out how to create maximum merriment in a locked-down world – plus all the usual busy-ness of work, parenting, and life – my days have felt pretty full lately. I thrive on a lot of activity, and get a rush out of the feeling I call “pleasantly productive” – until one of those perilously-spinning plates starts to wobble. At that point, things can spiral fast.
(Those are the days, by the way, that little miracles are made for. You don’t necessarily need huge, grandstanding interventions all the time; when you’re on-edge, some small gestures will do just fine.)
There is a certain beloved teenager in my life who, lately, has been a little more teenager-ish than is strictly necessary. This person is smart, observant, and creative. Also: critical, impatient, and stubborn. I have been bending over backward to make this hormonal human happy, going far out of my way to arrange opportunities and activities that will bring excitement and joy in a way that Covid-times don’t make easy. But for the most part, my efforts have been met with resistance, complaining, and a lot of heavy sighs.
By Monday afternoon, I had had enough, and stalked off for a few minutes to stew about ingratitude and poor attitudes, my anger feeding and whipping itself into a fury. After about fifteen minutes of this, I almost – almost, almost – stalked back over to my son and let loose with my fury. But then, I experienced what I can only describe as in intervention of grace. As I walked over my fury dissipated, my blood pressure dropped a few points and I found myself firmly, but kindly, asking him to put down his phone and engage with me. He did. We’ve been in a much better place since.
Miraculous? If you’ve ever parented a teenager, you know the answer: you bet your life.
Later that evening, I headed out to pick up the week’s breakfasts and lunches. This school year, Michigan rolled out a pandemic-inspired program to serve all kids free breakfast and lunch regardless of need. To accommodate remote and virtual learners, our district has made it possible to pick the meals up a week at a time. It may seem like a small thing, but being able to have familiar “school” foods while learning at home has been really fun and grounding for my kids, and while it’s not making the difference for us between eating or going hungry, having several meals’ worth of fruits and vegetables – and, okay, single-serve cereal bowls and chocolate milk and Bosco sticks and personal-sized frozen pizzas and those weird pre-packaged soybutter sandwiches – at no charge has been a nice offset to our family’s food budget.
But when I pulled up into the line, the woman working the orders couldn’t find my name on the list. I was sure I’d put in our order…or, wait, had I? Wherever the glitch occurred, one thing was sure: I was not on the list.
I drove away fighting back tears, friends. See, picking up those breakfasts and lunches on Monday nights has become a fun surprise for the kids, and something I can do to help their lives feel a little bit more normal when literally nothing else is. I was mad at myself for having screwed up the order and sad that I’d be showing up empty-handed rather than bearing yummy (and sometimes strange) treats.
Except…within an hour, I had an email from the food service supervisor. They’d had three no-shows (the number of school-aged kids I have, by the way.) Could I come in the morning and pick up the food?
I admit the tears I’d been holding back flowed freely when I saw that email, in a way that surprised me. Something so small, that in the moment, felt so big – and such perfect timing. Just another little miracle.
My final Monday miracle: that night, I checked in on a Facebook thread I’d started earlier in the day, asking my friends to help me solve a long-standing mystery.
When I was about 9 or 10, my mom and I watched a holiday TV special together that started as a seemingly sweet Christmas story, then devolved into a horror show complete with a murderous monster. Mom and I talked about it for years afterward, but could never remember the name of the show or the monster, and we never came across it again.
If you’ve lost someone important to you, you’ve probably experienced the weird phenomenon of having shared memories with only that person – and that phenomenon is especially intense with things that happened so long ago you can’t be completely confident of how you recall them.
Once that person is gone, you don’t have anyone to go back to and ask, “Was this really the way it happened?” Along with the original loss, you’ve also lost the connection to many moments in time and the certainty of how you experienced them.
All that to say: while I was 100% sure the show, whatever it was, would be cheesy and awful and not something I would likely ever want to watch again, it has come up for me every single holiday since my mom died, and it suddenly felt very important to me that I work out this puzzle. But many failed search attempts and incorrect guesses later, I’d started to give up on the idea that this mystery would ever be solved.
Around 10 PM, my own personal memory-recovery angel, a woman named Michelle, who isn’t even my Facebook friend nor someone I’ve ever interacted with to my knowledge, posted a comment with the correct answer: a Tales from the Dark Side holiday special that had aired in 1986.
I have no idea how she found it, or why she saw my post. But she was completely right.
I Googled the episode and found a video of the last three minutes of the show, in which a terrible monster named The Grither (a name my mom and I tried many times to recall, unsuccessfully) crashes through the family-room window and kills both the parents in front of their two small children (one played by Jenna Von Oy, best known as Six from Blossom).
I admit it: I wept tears of delight as I watched this gruesome scene unfold, highlighted by little Jenna quipping, “It wasn’t Santa Claus!”
Until that moment, I’d completely forgotten the detail of my mom and I rolling over that line and repeating it again and again over the years – and strangely, it felt like a little gift to me, divinely delivered 34 years later.
Monday was a miraculous day for me, friends. Even though there were no direct answers to any of my bigger prayers. Actually, nothing all that important happened, strictly speaking.
Just three little miracles.
-Me managing, inexplicably, to eke out some grace under pressure – and enjoying a better relationship with my teen because of it.
-A technical mistake on my part, corrected by a coincidence, leveraged by the kindness of someone in charge.
-And a longstanding mystery solved by a total stranger, helping me feel more in touch with my mom, who has now been gone 21 years.
You can chalk my “little miracles” up to whichever forces you like, or even simple good fortune.
But one thing I know for sure: because I noticed them, two days later these “little miracles” are still bringing me a lot of delight.
And maybe that’s the point. Good things happen to us, all of us, all the time. Do we notice them? Most of the time, probably not. Perhaps the biggest miracle of all was the fact that I paid attention.
Going forward, I hope we are all a little more in tune to the little miracles happening all around us, every day. Teenage meltdowns averted, free Bosco sticks, and killer monsters included.