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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

When my grandparents’ home was sold, the eclectic odds and ends that adorned their landscaping were given new life on my parents’ property. Items big and small, some peeking out from beneath carefully trimmed bushes, others proudly displayed for passing cars — they all found their way to my childhood home: the acrylic frog, the statue of the Blessed Mother, the slab of concrete with my brother’s and my handprints, the devious gnome.

The slab of handprints — really, nothing more than a stepping-stone with extra pizazz — was placed beyond the technical boundaries of my parents’ property, an accessory to the wooded perimeter. From within that shallow forest, a family of deer often appears, once cautious but now increasingly bold. Recently, more than one set of hooves have trod across that old stepping-stone slab. It’s cracked as a result, broken into numerous pieces, though still recognizable. New sets of prints join the old.

My parents have decided to leave it out beyond the property, to let the grass grow around it. It will eventually be forgotten, swallowed up by the mud and the weeds and the pressure of earnest paws. I wonder about the day my parents inevitably move away from that house, when they pack up the statue of the Blessed Mother and the acrylic frog and the devious gnome, when they leave the tiny handprints behind.

I wonder about our home’s new owners. Or about the kids who wander through that field — likely more forest now than backyard, no longer shallow trees but a robust gathering of wooded and leafy marvels. I wonder if those people will pause, crouch down, curious about the oddly placed stepping-stone. Will they brush aside the weeds and dirt, discover our broken handprints there? Where will their own imagination and curiosity and wonder bring them? Will they think of us in some discordant, transcendent way?

That momentary conjuring of curiosity connects us across space and time: Strangers still, yes, but real people with real stories, many which we can never fully know. That’s a holy act, something sacred, to pause and reverence the stories that have inevitably unfolded in this very place. In that very place. In the very place in which you find yourself in this very moment.

Our own passing through this world leaves prints upon the planet no different than those tiny hands in slabs of wet cement. Less literal, perhaps, but there just the same. And as time marches onward, our stories sink deeper into the earth, entangled in weeds and muddied over, but ever present for those who would pause and look.

We say God is in all things; we know the face of Christ is there in each member of our human family. The Spirit is woven into our stories, and our stories — good and bad, ugly and resplendent — are the stepping-stones of God’s creation…God’s creation which reveals God’s own story.

It’s a sacred thing to pause and remember those fellow Christ-bearers who walked this way before us, to wonder at their stories, to glimpse their sunken prints in the wet and vibrant soil. Strangers still, but less so. At the very least, seen, even if “at present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror.”

We remain confident that one day we “shall know fully, as [we are] fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) Until then, we keep weaving our stories, wandering and wondering.

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith and My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality (Loyola Press). He is the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Small Wonders Magazine, Air and Nothingness Press and more.  Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat.