You left home when you were only two and a half. It’s unreasonable to believe you’d remember anything, including me, your mother. On the other hand, you are an unusual child, so perhaps you recollect some details of life before you became the Dalai Lama.
I was going to ask if you might rememer the winter afternoon when piles of snow still blanketed the yard even though the temperature was unexpectedly in the mid-seventies.
It was maybe April—perhaps March. You were outside in your little green pants and a t-shirt that read “Warning: I’m Two.” We were drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. Instead of scribbling skinny rainbows, though, or making hopscotch like I was, you were really caking the chalk onto the rough pavement, rubbing the fat colored sticks over and over again in the same small area. Before long, you’d created a pile of colored chalk dust.
“Come on, sweetie. Let’s draw bluebirds.” Anything, I thought, to pull you away from what I saw as a big potential mess.
You didn’t exactly ignore me. I could sense that you registered my suggestion, but you stayed where you were with the tip of the chalk resting in the pile of its own dust. Then, you dropped the chalk and rested your whole small hand into the pile with your fingers spread out wide. You turned your palm toward me so I could see the result.
I remember it so vividly: the lightness of the late afternoon sunshine, how it felt to have my arms unencumbered by a parka, the intensity of your delighted expression, and the appearance of your toddler hand. Your palm and fingers were so coated in chalk dust—pink and dusky lavender and periwinkle blue—that your hand no longer looked like a human’s but more like something dipped in the water of a Monet painting.
You approached the snowbank that lined the sidewalk and leaned over, so very tiny in those bright green jeans, yet so intent on your endeavor. I watched as you carefully pressed your palm onto the whiteness of the snow, changing the flakes beneath it from one color to many.
What you made was extraordinarily beautiful. I had the strong sense that if you never did another thing with your life, not ever, your having been born was still worth it to the world just for this.
You made more handprints, each one its own small blessing. I watched you and considered imitating your actions and adding my own prints, but didn’t. I neither assisted nor interfered. The sun shined on us both. It shined on our whole community for that one afternoon.
By the time I went to sleep, the snow had melted entirely. I know because I went outside before I went to bed to check on your artwork. That night, a cold front came through. The wind rattled the north window in our bedroom, and it brought two fresh inches of new snow.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.