This past week, I returned home to find a soft manila envelope graced with familiar script reclined against the chipped maroon door to my new apartment. I sat on my new gray couch, feet on the sun-lacquered wood floor, and slid out from the package a small, square book—fluttering sheets of paper hole-punched and held together by hand-fastened rings. The cover was a polite pink. It was a book of tried and true recipes from my friend’s kitchen to mine with all her notes and failings and lessons learned folded in to the crisp pages. I felt like I had my very own copy of the Half-Blood Prince’s potions textbook!
Immediately, I pulled out my phone to text her. I paused for a moment, wondering how to express my mingled gratitude and incredulity at her thought and generosity. Finally, I found the most honest words: “You are a miracle.”
A lifetime of scanning Bible passages and trekking across Europe had taught me that miracles were events—supernatural happenings to be commemorated by cathedrals and retold through generations: Jesus walking on water, the Virgin Mary appearing to St. James on a potato chip, a painting of the Christ crying salty tears. Even secular miracles are distinct occurrences. The movie Miracle describes the unlikely Olympic victory of the 1980 American men’s hockey team while Miracle Whip is named for the continued inexplicable phenomenon of people spending good money on a jar of vinegar, corn starch, eggs, and high-fructose corn syrup.
It wasn’t until this past week, though, that I realized that the miracles in my life are not immediate interventions but rather the humans that nudge and scoop up and dizzy me. And if I’ve learned anything, miracles are meant to be documented. So, here is a brief account of recent miracles:
We sit together on the deck, heaved up above the entire city. It feels like we’re held at the apex of an upward leap from a trampoline, gifted a prolonged look at the lacy buildings and steely water festooned with islands. I feel like King Arthur, sitting on his hilltop throne, surveying his emerald kingdom. We eat pasta salad and banana bread from paper plates.
Between bites, you ask me how coming out was for me—that root question that connects our family—and I reply with my honest, well-practiced answer: I did not suffer, but I feel stunted. Perhaps being bound is worse than being broken open. Perhaps I will never catch up.
You smile. Then, with the Puget Sound turning merlot behind you, you share with me your love stories—not particularly comedies or tragedies—and your serendipities and a palpable contentment that seems to have built like warming spices over time, and I feel my world exhale. For the first time in a long while, time does not feel like such an enemy.
We walk downstairs for dessert, and before I leave, I am glad to honestly say, “I’ll see you soon.”
On my rides home from work, I yell your name at Siri multiple times so loudly I’m surprised I don’t crack the windshield (even more). Somehow she gets all tangled up with Bluetooth in ways I cannot divine, and it takes her a few attempts to catch your name.
But then she does, and she fetches you, and you’re in the car with me. Suddenly, my little Honda Civic is filled with the tap dance of you chopping carrots or jangle of you shaking up a Manhattan.
We talk about the little ecosystem you create in your bromeliad of a classroom, and you patiently prune my thoughts and concerns until I don’t feel quite so lost in the jungle of them. You convince me that money is just numbers and that most every choice can be remedied.
You send me a little pink cookbook and help tilt the scale from house to home.
I sit in the eddied gray flannel—the churning sea where I alternately float and drown—and gush about my New Year’s resolutions. I report the half an hour each day I dedicate to Duolingo Italian and tout the number of new vocabulary words I’ve filed in my lexicon.
You seem unimpressed.
“That’s great, Gabe, but you’ve been having a lot of anxiety about your career path lately. Don’t you think your time would be better spent on that?”
I survey your world—the bold words booming from the walls, the big-bellied blue pot so prone to ulcers that you care for so vigilantly, the trash can carefully stratified with months of plastic and cellophane, the gold pendant steadfast beside your bed—and I see you amplified. It’s as if the people and days of your life have punched holes in you and just now a light in your center has flicked on so that fully formed constellations emerge and fill the space.
It was always an honor to witness, and every morning since I have pondered my priorities like rosary beads—hungering to erect my basilica, thanking you for reminding me of matters of ultimate concern, wondering if I offered anything in return.
We lay splayed in the grass, the Space Needle truly looking like a Martian saucer hovering above us. I’m reminded of the summer concerts at Frederik Meijer Gardens with my family. We take turns rating the second band on a ten-point scale: 2, 5, 3, 6, 4. The camaraderie and giveaway slices of Pagliacci pizza would have been enough, but then Weyes Blood takes the stage, and I can almost see her voice take off. I lay back on the blanket between you all as she sings “Movies” and find it hard to believe that the expanding sky and clouds are not forged of the very same material as her voice.
I consider what a privilege it is to be young with you all and how someday, if we play our cards right, we could be old together, too.
When the concert finally subsides, we walk back to my apartment to eat chocolate cake amongst the boxes.
We gather around a table replete with interleaved slices of tomato and mozzarella and fresh-baked pumpernickel and dumplings and roasted root vegetables and vegan crab cakes. I feel like a guest at Babette’s feast. The garden that had ripened the feast gently thrashes outside the window, and your hands that tamed it gesticulate wildly beside me as you tell stories I never knew (but that do not surprise me) about the months you lived in a school bus.
I look at your home—each rainbow-emblazoned wall faithfully echoing you back. I look again at the community joined around the table and the garden leaping like a loyal dog outside and the photo in the album of you forty years ago, grinning beside a throng of children, standing in front of that school bus.
You have cultivated a world for yourself, and even in my couple hours there, I could feel a ripening.
I’ve tried hard lately to be less superlative and saccharine, so I almost cringe at all of this—the sentiment, the florid phrases, the use of the word “miracle.” But I want to be clear: this is not an exaltation of the ordinary. This is not stopping to notice beauty in a flower or a reminder to practice gratitude or any soothing platitude.
I’m writing about the extraordinary.
I’m writing about you who have had powerful, surreal impacts in my life. Who have forged worlds. And the extraordinary is not a comfort or a perfunctory encouragement or a passing beauty to tepidly appreciate. It is a mandate.
It is an impetus to believe in something greater, to prioritize something better, and to grow in the best directions.
What will I do with these miracles?
It’s Saturday, and I’m walking out of an architectural design studio after spending an hour learning about Seattle’s history of redlining and the ongoing challenges it poses for fair housing in the city. Outside, there are two women with metal picks fastened to their fingers unclasping melodies from the strings of banjos and other festival-goers sipping ginger beers on benches.
I walk down the street and run my fingers through a rosemary bush. These bushes sprout up everywhere in the city, so almost anywhere I go in Seattle, my fingertips smell like rosemary. I feel the weight of the writing course catalogues I just picked up in my backpack.
Maybe it’s the surplus of vitamin D or serotonin being poured like syrup over my brain, but I think as I walk that maybe I’m not (and will never be) such a success or such a failure. But maybe I can be (or possibly already am) a bit of a miracle.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.