By Jessie Horney

Every morning I see the sunrise reflected in a mirror before I see it in the sky. There’s an eastern window in our front room that captures the sunrise, framing dawn in a way that directs the light to a mirror hanging in the entryway, and that’s also how I know when the world is burning – when my mirror holds a bright red forest-fire sun. The smoke this summer settled like fog in our valley, the skies ash and the light a smoldering magenta, each a visual reminder of a crisis far away. The trees were on fire. The coast was on fire. We weren’t even supposed to go outside, the air so full of toxins, they told us, which was confusing because sometimes in a pandemic outside is the safest place to retreat. But there we were, tucked behind windows full of red sunshine because now, in every single way, the world was on fire.

This article is supposed to be about parenting, I know that, and it’s probably supposed to be light and funny, I know that too. And life has been light and funny sometimes, like when my 4-year-old dresses up her brother’s stuffed animals in bows and dresses and hides them for him to find later, or when my 8-year-old watched one (ONE) school video about outer space and immediately questioned the existence of a God. (I laughed so hard. I thought I was in a private Christian school commercial for a second. “Is public school ruining your family just like we told you it would?”)

Really, though, how are you? What’s life like these days? Are you home more? Home less? How are the kids? Did your school open back up? Did you speak with Walter over at the school district technical help hotline yet? Did he walk you through the new server filter website and help log your first grader back into his homework app, even though that first grader does not want to do one more second of online school and he’s never even heard of math before? Have you cried a little?

Cried a lot?

Is the sunrise in your mirror still burnt red?

I keep wondering, a slight grip in my chest like a handshake to my heart, what this time means to me, my family, and humanity. If the sun is telling me the world is on fire, what will I do? What will I remember about this season of hardship when the sky is finally clear? How will my responses, my words or my silence, my fear or my anger, my mask or my not-mask: What story will they tell about this time?

The planet is changing. We are changing. And in the fog of smoke and disillusions, we have an opportunity to look up from the mirror and actually glance outside, out of ourselves, out of our own little worlds, and find ways to listen to each other. Because truly? There is no other. There is only us. Humans. And when one forest burns, even many miles away, we all breathe those toxins. The air is ours to share – with our kids, with our friends and neighbors, with the people at the voting booth choosing the ‘wrong’ candidate, with the teachers and the principals and the school board, with all those beloved Amazon drivers. We all need clean air. We all need each other. Always, of course, but especially when the fires burn so fiercely.

And now for a blessing. May your thoughts be clear and your heart find rest. May the night sky remind you that the universe is always expanding and life must expand with it, making room for each other and learning to love those we do not understand. May you know that you are loved by the God of that expanding sky (unless you agree with my daughter’s newfound theology). May your school year be at least slightly above mediocre, may the children remember how to spell, may the teachers be blessed a million times over for coming back to the classroom, and may your family connect each day in a way that matters. May you know you are simply one part of many more, but that still, your part matters very much indeed.

Amen.

Jessie Horney is a freelance writer and poet. Find her at www.horneymomtellsall.com.

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