It’s hard to believe twelve months have passed since our last family vacation. It’s bad enough the planet is getting warmer, but now clocks have started spinning faster too.
Although I’m recovering, there are still a lot of goals I impose on the family, one of which is to make sure we visit every state before my daughters fly the coop. And since we had yet to put gold stars on much of New England, that’s where we pointed our car.
As has become our custom, after settling on which region to blitz, everybody gets to pick a specific place to visit; then we connect the dots.
My daughters watched Anne of Green Gables until the pictures fell off the videotape, so Prince Edward Island—the setting that inspired the author—was picked first.
Another daughter likes Manhattan more than Woody Allen (that is, more than Woody Allen likes Manhattan—she likes parsley more than Woody Allen himself). So, Times Square, Central Park, the Soup Nazi, and Broadway made the final cut.
My wife enjoys quaint little towns with white churches and antique shops. I prefer big cities and growing old with my purchases. But it was her pick, so there were lots of drives through the New England countryside.
Since I like to visit big league ballparks and eat whatever food a particular region is known for, we waved at a few baseball fields, ate Philly cheese steaks in Philadelphia, pizza in New York, baked beans in Boston, lobster in Kennebunkport, and Spam in New Jersey.
And speaking of Kennebunkport, we saw George Bush, Senior, hitting golf balls into the Atlantic from the yard of his summer home, while Barbara played with their grandkids. We’re sure it was the former President and first lady because black SUVs driven by Secret Service agents kept circling each of the kids while they played Red Rover. Plus, Bill Clinton was standing beside us shouting stuff at George like, “My cat can hit a golf ball farther than that!” and “Can’t you hit anything to the left?” The cat part wasn’t true of course; Socks has developed a horrible slice and can’t keep his head down.
Anyway. The most interesting thing that happened to us involved something no one picked. On Prince Edward Island we stayed at a bed-and-breakfast that was part of a working farm—with pigs to be slopped, cows to be milked, and sheep hooked directly to a loom. The farm was a few hundred feet behind one of the only three colleges of piping in the world. I assumed it was a school that taught plumbers how to connect pipe and wear their pants, but I was wrong.
Our first morning there, I awoke to the sound of a cat being strangled. The noise went on for what seemed like hours. I was just about to get up and go help the cat fight back when my wife said, “Don’t you just love bagpipes?”
About as much as I love a rousing polka or an ice-cream headache, I thought. Then it dawned on me. We were staying within earshot of a place where they train wanna-be bagpipers. No wonder they allow only three of these colleges in the world. Probably tightly controlled by the United Nations.
That evening, however, we found ourselves sitting in an audience at a Celtic Arts festival.
Fortunately it was put on by the teachers at the college, and was outstanding. Two hours of Celtic folk songs, river dances, drums, and fiddling made the occasional cat strangling tolerable.
At one point, while a three-piece band was at full throttle, the drummer broke rank and stepped to center stage. He put on the most amazing display of percussion I had ever witnessed. His hands became invisible for four or five minutes.
Then it happened. A little boy who looked to be about two or three got up from his seat on the second row and walked over to the stage. He stared up at the drummer with open-mouthed amazement, his Irish-red hair touching the back of a kelly green T-shirt. As the music ascended, his little body could no longer hold it inside and began to percolate with excitement and then erupted in a highly original dance. What he lacked in rhythm was compensated for by style.
The little boy was oblivious to the crowd. He threw his head even further back and began to twirl in circles. He clapped his hands, stamped his feet, and became a scarecrow in the funnel of a tornado.
The drummer noticed the dancing boy and locked his eyes on him. The boy noticed being noticed, and an instant bond formed. It was as if the two were the only ones present.
The drummer began to play even faster—just for the boy. And the boy danced faster—just for the joy. In one spontaneous moment a thousand years of cultural history—previously lying dormant in a three-foot-tall body—suddenly awakened and rushed out.
And in that same moment, I realized what Jesus must have meant when he said all who truly discover the kingdom must do so as a small child. Yes, exactly as this dancing boy. To enter the kingdom is to recognize the cadence of our true culture and step away from where we have been seated. With the glorious freedom of a child, we abandon ourselves to its rhythms and become free from the opinions of others. To enter the kingdom is to become lost in a gaze at the one who is making the music, knowing that it is being played just for you.