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Learning what it means to be human
beetle

Last week I came within a few inches of putting my hand on a rat snake that had wound itself around my outside faucet. After the startle, I stood and marveled at the sinuous curves, the gravity-defying balance. The same day a tree frog jumped over the threshold of the back door, jumped just once and stayed there long enough for me to notice his outlandishly large feet before gently shooing him back outside. A few days before, as I walked around the yard after dark, I ran up a small rabbit from beneath the holly shrubs and watched him run-hop in such a way that he could have been propelled by coils.

On Saturday, I took my great-nephew, Jackson, and one of his friends on a walk around the small town where he lives. We followed the sidewalk past the deserted bank building, the post office and the American flag flapping briskly in the summer breeze over a flower bed. “Look!” one of them cried and pointed at our feet where a beetle lay dead. A long black horn extended from his head, his green shell was mottled with black shapes that could be Rorschach blots. He sprawled on his back in the midst of a throng of scurrying ants.

On Tuesday, once again out walking — but this time alone — I happened upon another unusual insect, a large moth, wider than my index finger is long. Golden yellow with its own set of splotches, rusty brown. I tried to get her to climb on to my finger, but she refused, edging delicately away and scattering wing powder as she went, a centimeter at a time.

All of them — the beetle, the moth, the snake, the frog, the rabbit — such ordinary creatures. But their ordinariness did not keep them from grabbing my attention and taking my breath.

Ordinary. As I type the word I am reminded that, in the church year, this — these months of heat and humidity, of planting and looking toward harvest, of long days and clear-sky nights — are a part of Ordinary Time, the days between Pentecost and Advent set aside for everyday living. The use of the word “ordinary” doesn’t connote plain or common, but “ordered for” or, more convicting, “ordained to.” That is, these days, these months place a calling upon our lives to examine the quotidian tasks of eating and sleeping, bathing and cleaning, walking and resting as acts that answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?”

They turn tasting a tomato sandwich on white bread into communion and diving under an advancing wave into baptism and turning a dead beetle onto his feet an act of compassion. They turn sunrises and sunsets and meteor showers into manifestations of divine whimsy. They turn the harried and hurried into the holy.

A few months ago, my niece gave birth to her first child and I was fortunate enough to be present. I watched the nurses, the doctor, moving calmly about the room, speaking in what I could only think of as dulcet tones. I watched Kirck, attentive and calm, soon to be a father and with no idea what that change in status would mean. And I watched Kate, so strong, so ready.

Adria Jane Viana arrived with a squenched face and clenched fists. She came with 10 fingers and 10 toes and two eyes that blinked tightly in the dim light that, to her, was extraordinarily bright. She was born a perfectly ordinary human.

Which is, of course, exactly that for which we had hoped. And prayed. And waited with such anticipation that, if one did not know otherwise, one would have thought that she was the first human rather than simply the most recent of millions and millions of others.

A perfectly ordinary human, ordained to being born here, now, into this family, this circle of love and memories and unavoidable expectations.

And because of that, she grabbed my attention and took my breath away.