Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Known Universe

By Laurie Kay Olson
Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

It is amazing some of the things you remember from childhood.
Mom and I sat on the back steps not long after the rain had stopped. She was helping me learn how to hold my fingers for the number three because when someone asks how old I was I would still hold up two fingers. My little fingers were struggling to learn the new position. She would show me with her fingers and then help me get my fingers into the right configuration.
“Free!” I exclaimed, holding up my hand. Two fingers were fully upright, but the third was still cramped over a bit. Mom had stopped paying attention to the task at hand. She was looking up and away.
“See the rainbow, Lilly?” she asked, but she didn’t turn back to me. “Isn’t it pretty?”
I looked up in the direction she was looking. I couldn’t see a bow. There was nothing out of the ordinary that I could tell.
“See, it is right up there!” Mom encouraged. She pointed up.
My eyes scanned the known universe. I still couldn’t see a bow.
“It has such pretty colors,” she said, pointing. Whatever she was seeing was making her happy. I wanted to see it too.
I scrunched my face in concentration. I kept looking for the bow. Was it tied to the telephone pole? Was it on one of the power lines? Perhaps tied on one of the branches in the hedge? I still couldn’t see it.
“Oh, look, now it is a double!” cried Mom enthusiastically.
I looked up at her questioningly. What was it that she could see that I couldn’t. Adults were strange creatures for sure.
“That means that there are two of them now,” Mom explained.
I turned my face upward again. Again I scanned the telephone poles, power lines, trees and hedges. Not a ribbon tied to anything that I could see.
“Can’t see it!” I was almost in tears with frustration.
Mom tried again, demonstrating with a wide sweep of her arm. I sidled closer to her and tried to look again. I still saw nothing. I wanted to see what she saw. I wanted to see the pretty ribbon tied in a bow, and now there were two of them and I still couldn’t see them. Unlike Daddy, Mommy was not one to tease me. If she said she saw something, then she saw something.
I strained to see what it was she was trying to show me, but it was no good. There were no ribbons tied to anything. It was time for a different tact – change the subject.
“Free!” I told her, holding up my fingers. This time all three were a little cramped, but it was the right number.
I didn’t completely understand the memory that stayed with me over the years. Obviously, I had misunderstood what a rainbow was, but I had not been able to see any pretty thing out there. Then one day, years later, my husband and I were lying in bed one morning with our daughter, Annie, tucked warmly between us. All of a sudden her hand shot out from under the covers and pointed up at the ceiling..
“Oh, look, there is a little wall up there!” she exclaimed in epiphany.
I also had an epiphany at that moment. That I had misunderstood what a rainbow was was not the only reason I had not been able to see it. It, like the ceiling, had existed outside of my known universe at that moment. I also realized that there was an awful lot that Annie could teach me. I committed myself in that moment to being a good student. I wanted to see all the rainbows she had to share and help to expand her known universe.

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