My sisters and I were taught about miracles just about every week in Sunday school. A few loaves of bread and a couple of fish multiplying to feed 5,000. Jesus healing lepers, making the blind see, bringing Lazarus back to life. An empty tomb and a risen savior.
Once I hit second grade, though, I learned something that made me think the biggest miracle was a current phenomenon that, incredulously, nobody ever seems to marvel over—the fact that the Earth, the very ground we’re all standing on, is spinning at about 1,000 mph, and that means we are all moving, all the time, even though we can’t feel it happening.
My little 8-year-old brain exploded at the thought.
My sons and I were recently talking about this on an evening when the moon was a glowing crescent, the kind of moon that would cradle you as you sat and cast a line off its tip, and they asked what it looked like to the people on the other side of the world. So with the help of my frequent co-parent YouTube, we watched the trajectory and phases of the moon, and learned how the Earth spins on its axis. We also saw how “our” planet is moving around the sun at about 67,000 mph and our solar system is moving through the galaxy at about 515,000 mph, and how we’re along for those rides, too.
It’s dizzying to think about all that moving we’re doing as I sit here, still and silent, on my couch.
When I was a kid my favorite thing to do was spin. My favorite toy was my Sit ’n’ Spin. My favorite amusement park ride was the one in which you could spin yourself inside each rickety “cup” while the whole ride spun around on the metal platform. My favorite thing at the playground was a big tire swing, hung parallel to the ground. I would sit on it, preferably with my apprehensive little sister, and dig my toes into the sand beneath it, turning us faster and faster and faster until she begged me to stop so she could get off before she threw up.
I loved spinning. I loved seeing the whole world blur around me until the only things I could see clearly were my own limbs and the person directly across from me on the tire or the ride or the toy, their smile wild, their laughter infectious, their insides being tickled the same way my insides were being tickled.
Now that I’m older I see more clearly that apart from the same ride we’re all on together on this third rock from the sun, each of us is also spinning in our own orbits, following the unique trajectories of our lives at different speeds. We turn from darkness to light and back again, from helplessness to hopefulness, from love to loss, all the while bumping into or crossing through one another’s orbits as we go, trying like hell to straighten our paths, to slow down or speed up, treating others like they are moons to our existence rather than planets of their own.
And despite our best efforts at selflessness and compassion, the rest of the world often blurs so that we see only our own flailing limbs and persistent dreams. It’s human nature; it’s the desperate call of our fragile hearts; it’s all of us doing the best we can with what we’re facing at any given point in time.
I am amazed as I watch you all spinning, facing the darkness, feeling the light, waiting and praying and digging your toes into the sand to change your direction or speed or perspective. Navigating parenthood and marriage, failed businesses and failing relationships, addiction and recovery and illness and death and a hundred other things, some of them too dark to even imagine myself enduring.
This, too, is the same for the people on the other side of the world.
Gloria, a 21-year-old college student from Rwanda, was recently telling me about the lingering effects of the 1994 genocide in her country, a mass killing of 800,000 in a matter of 100 days. Half of her mother’s family and almost all of her father’s were slaughtered. Gloria was born three years later, but her life has been altered and defined by her parents’ pain.
“There wasn’t time to process their emotions when everything happened. They had to rebuild. They had to dig graves. They had to find bodies. There was so much to be done. So the assumption was ‘After we clean up, after we rebuild and get to a good place, then we can deal with our emotions.’ But that time hasn’t come yet.”
For those three months their lives had spun out of control. Terror and evil had flung them into chaos. And the ensuing nausea of persistent grief has since slowed their individual orbits to a crawl, their hearts adjusting to the dark side of the moon rather than pushing toward the light around the bend.
“Most of my friends are struggling to deal with parents who have been through so much that they don’t even know how to love anymore,” Gloria said with a kind matter-of-factness that broke my heart. “Not because they don’t love their kids, but they’ve seen some of the most horrible things you can ever think of, and the whole idea of love has died. The point of love can become a terrible experience.”
I don’t know how to process that level of pain and loss. I don’t know what I’d do if three-quarters of my extended family were slaughtered. Would the mere thought of loving someone wholly, freely again become too painful a thing to put into practice? How would I will myself to keep spinning at all?
Maybe that’s where the miracle comes in. We are all moving, regardless of whether we feel up to it. Despite our failings and our fears, when we think we can’t go on we actually are going on. When I sit down and sob, I’m still moving forward. When you close your eyes and breathe and pray for guidance, your answer is in the sunrise and the seasons.
The Earth turns. The gravitational pull of the sun spins us around it. The solar system glides forward, one jumbled mass of planets and stars and moons and heartbreak. How comforting to know that when I think I am alone in my pain, when I believe my pace is wrong or my trajectory is off, there is a part of my existence whose pace and movement is always a mirror image of yours, and yours, and yours, and it is perfect— just look at the sunrise and the seasons.
At 1,000 mph, we spin together. Nobody is alone. We are all on the ride, myself and Gloria’s mother, the addict I love and the friend whose wife just moved out, the woman who recently lost her dad and the mother who miscarried again and the father of four who’s battling cancer and the kid at the park today who’s pushing off on that old tire swing with all the power he’s got in his little legs. May he always be as confident and adventurous as he is right now. But if he ever falters, it’s OK.
He’s with us.