Long drive, late at night. It was after bedtime when we left Tecumseh and I’m hoping to get to the hotel by one. Mild bickering.
“He’s touching me.”
“She won’t put her seat up.”
“STOP MAKING THAT NOISE!”
“Why do we have to go to this dumb Cosmosphere anyway?”
And I’m wondering if someone reset the GPS to Most Confusing Route Possible. Or if this really is the only way to get through central Kansas without driving all the way to the Interstate in Missouri.
So I bite my tongue and drive, hoping they’ll start to fall asleep, that my patience will hold out and that this really will be worth the drive and the expense and the whining of overtired children who really just need to fall asleep already.
In the distance, I see red flashing lights. They take up most of the horizon, blinking in perfect unison. It’s the synchronized blinking of the lights that catches and holds my attention. It seems so out of place, yet in this computerized world, asynchrony should be the anomaly.
“Hey, look!” I call to the children.
It buys me a moment of silence as they all stare into the darkness. It seems to take forever for the lights to blink again. But just as their attention drifts back to who is touching whom, the lights flash against the horizon again.
“What is it?” They are intrigued.
Now, I do have a clue. I saw something similar driving across Iowa on my way home from my uncle’s funeral. As the sun set, we drove into an enormous windmill farm. And what caught my attention then was how all the lights blinked on in unison, flashing together for some time until they slowly fell out of synch. But the sun set hours ago and these lights were still flashing in unison.
But this is the thing with children. You can answer their questions and increase their knowledge. Or you can withhold just enough information to maintain a sense of mystery. Wonder stands at the base of the things we see and do not understand, not in the flood of information that answers every question we can think to ask. So I decide not to answer.
“I’m not sure. What do you think it is?”
“CHRISTMAS LIGHTS!” Nisa calls out. “They say Merry Christmas!”
“It’s a bit early for that. But maybe?”
They all lean forward, staring out the windshield as best they can, waiting for the next flash to confirm this first hypothesis.
Another flash. There is no discernible pattern and I hear a disappointed sigh from the entire back of the car.
“What could they be?”
“I don’t know, but I think we’ll see them. We turn in 13 miles. It’s hard to judge distance at night, especially when it’s just lights flashing against a black sky. But I think they are closer than that.”
I continue to drive, watching the miles pass beneath us while the children all strain against their seatbelts, trying to be the first to catch a glimpse of what is producing these strange lights. They are silent, watchful, expectant.
I turn and the lights seem to disappear. I’m disoriented for a moment. We’ve watched these lights flash for over 13 miles and they suddenly disappear when I turn? I realize we must have turned in between the windmills between flashes. I crouch down to look up as far as I can. Sure enough, the next flash is over my head. Then a great, gray monolith materializes out of the darkness. I have seen hundreds of windmills in my life, but never like this, gray against a black sky and just barely outside my window. They are impressive.
“Look closely, guys. They are all around us.”
They all shift to look out their own windows and one by one I hear the small, hushed sounds of discovery.
“Wow . . ”
“They’re so big . . .”
“How many are there?”
And the car falls silent.
Because late one night, I decided not to answer a question and to simply let them wonder. And as it is with so many things, when they finally happened across the answer on their own, that moment of discovery led to more questions and just a little more wonder.