by Charlotte Carpenter
A slow but steady rain came down all that wintry morning and froze where it fell—on the ground, the trees, the buildings. By mid-afternoon the rain had stopped, and we looked on a crystal world. We were accustomed to the white hoarfrost of winter, but this was something else—a hard, clear coating of solid ice. Our five children, ages five to sixteen, returned from school exclaiming about how good the sledding would be on the steep hill in our pasture.
They took out at once, but they never reached their destination, for between home and hill lay a gently rolling, treeless meadow. Here they found that their sleds would speed over the ice from fence to fence with only the weight of their bodies to keep them going. What fun they had. When they came home to chores and supper, they were so excited. “Mom and Dad, you’ve got to come with us down to the pasture tonight,” they said. They had never seen ice so slippery that they didn’t need a hill for coasting on their sleds.
Why should fortyish parents risk life and limb by going out on a dangerously slick night? They begged until we simply could not refuse them.
Gingerly we made our way to the meadow. Even with rubber footgear, we found it hard to walk. The sleds we pulled kept sliding into the backs of our legs. It was very cold, and my husband, the practical one, carried an armload of wood to build a fire.
We will never forget the unbelievably beautiful sight that met our eyes when we reached the meadow. The moon and stars, shining brilliantly as they do only on clear, cold nights, turned the meadow into a lake of glass. We built our fire at the top of a slight incline. The ice reflected us, and the leaping flames danced on the ice.
Again and again the children and sleds flew over the ground. If two rode together, the sled went faster—so fast the riders could barely turn in time to avoid crashing into the fence. The littlest ones rode back to the starting point, easily pulled by older brothers. We parents envied them—the hardest part for us was walking back after the ride. We left most of the sledding to our children and stayed near the fire, absorbed in the dreamlike magic of the night.
We all felt so good when we started back that we hardly noticed our cold feet and tired bodies.
“Will the ice still be here tomorrow?” one of the children asked.
“Probably not if the sun shines,” I answered. And sure enough, by midmorning the ice was gone, leaving only an expanse of brown grass.
To this day, when we’re in the meadow, whether it’s covered with the luxuriant green of summer or the white snow of winter, we remember the wonder of that night. Despite six other witnesses I harbor a slight doubt that it was real, for the experience seems like something we must have imagined.
My husband and I learned several things that night: to enjoy an interlude of joy when it comes; not to put off our children when they find something wonderful and so unusual that it may never happen again; and not to say, “We’re too busy now. It will have to wait.” We go with them to see a new calf, a robin on the lawn, a butterfly or bug. We share their excitement over a ballgame, a school play, or graduation. For now we know this: Refuse to take the time, and you will miss something precious to hold in memory. A magical sledding on glass in the starlight may happen only once in a lifetime.
Young children view the world with a unique blend of awe and urgency. Everything, from a rainbow to a chocolate sundae, is new and exciting to them. And everything needs to be experienced right now!
We sometimes get impatient with this perspective—yet we could learn from it. For as we plow through our endless list of chores and responsibilities, postponing time with our loved ones, life hurtles by— like a sled in a meadow of ice. Before we know it, we’re standing before heaven’s gates, wondering how we got there so fast. Don’t miss the precious nights of magic on the way.
– James C Dobson