This year, I have had the honor of nannying a young girl with Down Syndrome named Emma. Emma is in second grade and is obsessed with Frozen! And I mean obsessed…. But not only is she obsessed with that, she is particularly fond of what I call the “little things.”
Three days a week I would pick Emma up from school, and we would spend at least ten minutes at the playground while Emma conquered the monkey bars. It is the only piece of the playground that you can find her on. And while she is a master at it, she finds so much joy in the repetition and accomplishment of it that she can never quite tear herself away. I often found myself getting irritated after the 5th or 6th time around waiting for her to be done so we could get ahead of the after-school traffic…which we never did.
Other examples of her fascination with the little things include really sharp pencils, or drawing her numbers just perfect, or laughing at whatever thing Tom and Jerry were doing in the latest cartoon even though she had seen the episode at least 26 times.
And since I started working with her in October, I had always found myself trying to speed her up and get through the repetition and fascination she had with things in order to move on to the next activity… until this month.
Because of the season that every human is required to trudge through right now, we have all felt our worlds drastically slow down. And if you’re anything like me, you might be starting to feel restless, hopeless, or like the days are starting to blur together.
This week I have been reflecting on something I learned way back in elementary school called a doldrum. A doldrum is a spot in the sea close to the equator where there is no wind or current and where ships have historically found themselves caught in and would ultimately perish. That stagnation, that inactivity, led to the death of these ships and their crew. For the past couple weeks, I have felt like I was in a doldrum – a stagnation, a desert, with no hope for a gust of wind or current of motivation in sight.
However, yesterday I went back to babysit Emma since all of this started and I gleaned new perspective.
Emma is seemingly un-phased by this season. In fact, she is even a little bit grateful for it.
In seasons like this, she is finding that she can sharpen her pencil for as many times as she pleases. She can erase and rewrite her numbers as many times over as she likes because there is no rush to her day. No one is asking her to “hurry up” or “get a move on” and she only continues to be CAPTIVATED by these seemingly insignificant things.
These little things throughout her day whether that be a sharpened pencil, a little bug, or the temperature outside make these days her absolute best. She has been given the time and space in this season to process the world with exactly the right amount of wonder, time, and space that she needs to give herself.
I’ve decided that – especially now – I want to be like Emma.
I have been so preoccupied lately with the bombardment of news, the threat of “the surge,” no timeline on when this is supposed to end that I have completely blinded myself to the captivation of little things and little joys going on around me.
Emma has a posture of heart of inherent humility. She doesn’t let herself, her image, or the news get in the way of seeing the world and all the beauty that is holds. I have decided that I need to humble myself and free myself of the distractions and threat of this world in order to see the wonder around me. The incredible spring sunsets, the FaceTimes with my people, the helpers volunteering their time, the sharpened pencils, the puppy kisses. I have no control of the world going on around me, but I do have control over the posture of my heart.
The paradox of Emma’s captivation with the little things around her is she is free.
Free of the worries of the world.
Free of the idea that the world views her as different because of Down Syndrome.
Free from the fact that the world is currently debating whether a person with Down Syndrome even deserves a ventilator if they find themselves sick with the virus in a hospital with inadequate resources.
Its paradoxical because within the word of captivation is the word “captive.” Which society would lead us to belief is the antithesis of free. However, I believe that Jesus is teaching us something different. When someone is captivated by something, they are directing their attention to something that is irresistible. When someone is captivated by something, be it a passionate career, a lover, or a spectacle, they belong to something else. They belong to something greater than themselves.
In the Gospel of John, Mary, Jesus’ mother is described as PRESENT at the foot of the cross. Mary was there captivated by the tragedy and the gravity of the situation unfolding before her. There, witnessing the death of the baby she carried and raised. There, holding tight to the strange and yet palpable hope of God’s plan. Mary knows that she and her son, Jesus, BELONG to something greater than themselves.
So as our own well of non-sustainable strength and love are starting to run dry in these times, let us remind ourselves that we belong to a God who has an abundant well of all of these mercies. Here we are in the middle of a world tragedy and we are choosing to be PRESENT. Not to numb ourselves but rather stand here steadfast and trusting as we witness God’s strange plan unfolding before us.
And while it may be hard to see that hope and plan some days, I am going to seek it in the captivation of the little things. Like Emma, I am going to choose the paradox of captivation and freedom in order to invite the same thing for my people around me.
I no longer can sit in the stagnation of what culture wants me to believe as the world is stopping. Rather, I invite all of us to choose a posture of heart of freedom and captivation. As author Glennon Doyle wrote in her most recent book, “Freeing of oneself invites those around you to be free as well.”
Tonight I want to invite you to reflect on whether you have felt yourself captivated by the little things lately? And if not, how are you going to invite that into your own world this week?
Whitney Buckendorf is a first-year student at Denver University, engaging her passion for others and the world through International Studies and Social Work.
The Table is a worship experiment of Heart of the Rockies Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that meets on Tuesday evenings from 6-7:30 p.m. at the FoCo Cafe–when we’re not under stay-at-home orders. For now, we’re meeting virtually. Go to our website for more.