The reader should note that I have never seen the popular television program, '24'. While there will inevitably be parallels to that program's plot and pacing, these are purely coincidental.
I've been home now for less than 24 hours. Half that, and most of it spent soaking up sleep. In this short time, the complicated beauty of belonging has unfurled itself like a blooming rose. Or a venus flytrap.
Already, I have sensed the transference of a psychic weight that comes to any who dares proclaim themselves a parent. It came in sighs and knowing glances, and it came quickly. Which is fair. This is expected. This is heavy.
In these first 24 hours, I have talked my daughter down from the ledge of a tantrum. Mostly. Already I have listened to my kids' breathless stories until my mind clouded and closed and I was reduced to mindless nods and yesses.
Already I have tried to scrape together the pieces of myself left after a long, exhausting day, once the kids were in bed, only to fall asleep on the couch.
It took only 4 hours to discover dog diarrhea on the white carpet.
My new glasses arrived while I was away and I find myself struggling to adjust. Some things look clearer now and others more blurry than before. Everything looks different. I am acutely aware of this literal metaphor on my face.
As the airplane descended, I watched otherworldly clouds part, revealing the ordered beauty of my patchwork prairie province. I witnessed my world from a God's-eye-view. First, the billowing clouds, then the green and brown tiles of abstracted farm labour. Then, along the roads, moving cars appeared, each with its destination and passengers. Lower still, towns and cities grew from the earth, tiny against the landscape. We sank while the towns grew into cities. When the landing gear emerged I saw the shadow of our plane. This earth is no abstract painting. My world is a photograph.
The final shot zooms in to focus on my waiting children. I see them before they see me, in a mirror that reflects what waits beyond the automatic security doors. I bring my smile through that threshold, and we hug in joy. My daughter hugs first as she always has. She is younger. My son has been a teenager for a week. He hugs more slowly, but I can tell he is happy to see me. He has so many stories to tell.
My wife stands back at first, and I take in her beauty for a silent split second, until the force of her embrace pulls us all into a huddle. Her eyes are full of love and tired desperation. She has been living down here on earth, where cotton candy clouds have no substance. She has lived the same 24 hours I am entering into, and she is drained. She begins four night-shifts tonight. It is my turn now, and I fumble to catch the baton just before it bounces across the cold airport floor.
I have just surfaced from seven days in the high desert, where the air is thin. Here at home, life is thick with laundry and dishes and requests and disappointments. And also joys.
My son returns from the restaurant bathroom, and I don't recognise him at first. He is taller than I remember. My daughter spends her morning making a beautiful gift for her friend's birthday. By hand. All her idea. My wife is asleep in our bed after her night shift. Lovely in her well-deserved rest. Soon she will wake up with me to a set of days off. We will be lovers again. I have no better friend on this earth.
Above this earth, somewhere I've given up on comprehending, the Lord of all things has been in both places, all along. And other places, too. Above the clouds and riding inside each miniature car at the same time. Dirtying clothes with sunlit adventures and shoving them into washing machines back home.
Praise to you, oh God of the both-and. God of the every. Lord of thin air and solid earth. The Maker of Eternity, whose grace allows me to divide all time into 24 digestible hours.