Sunday morning at church. I took a seat by the aisle where sunlight poured through the stained glass window, where pale patches of pink, green, blue, and gold glimmered down the white wall.
In front of me sat a young man, a young woman, and a little girl, three years old.
The young man stretched his arm along the back of the pew, nearly but not quite embracing the young woman and child, just an easy drape of affection, of togetherness.
I could just see the top of the child’s head, two pinned-up pigtails coming loose, where his hand rested.
Then a chubby little hand crept up to pat his arm, once, twice, with all the grace of a ballerina. Two slow, deliberate, barely-discernible pats, before the dimpled hand disappeared again.
I watched, pierced by this silent message.
Maybe it was I love you. Or Thank you for being with me. Or quiet reassurance—I am fine, you are fine, we are fine together. Maybe even I’m here, you’re here, all is well with the world.
Such pureness of heart in that simple gesture. Such trust and confidence, such peace. How naturally it comes to a child, reaching out to someone else in benevolence, faith, and belonging.
And I mourned the incremental loss of it as we grow older, that it should fade like the colored patches of stained-glass light against the wall, that clarity of purpose should be obscured even as we accrue the words and language to better communicate our thoughts and feelings, that we should have to think twice about reaching out, or being the first to do so.
Two gentle pats, in them contained the original order and design of things, that together is the best place to be, that we are here for one another.
And so the children remind us.