The Angels are Sweeping Heaven

We have had snow on the ground in Nashville for an unusually long time this winter. These cold days and nights have provided us with a welcome excuse to have more family time in front of the fire. So tonight my wife and I had a movie night with our 3 daughters, complete with buttered popcorn, that stirred an unusual array of emotions. Taylor, our first grader, jumped in my arms with tears in her eyes and screamed, “Daddy, can I go backwards on my next birthday? I want to stay six forever.” This unpredictable comment was her response to having just spent 90 minutes with the family watching “Father of the Bride.” You know the movie. Steve Martin basically “loses it” when his 22-year-old daughter comes home from college abroad in Rome with a fiancé’. Despite the fact that the boy, uh-hum, young man, is wonderful beyond belief, Martin cannot cope with the fact that his daughter will be leaving home so soon. Just when he manages to respond appropriately and get his act together, the wedding fiasco ends with him not getting either a dance or good‑bye from his precious daughter before she takes off for her honeymoon.

At this point in the movie, our three daughters spontaneously combusted and began sobbing. In rushed the tears! the gushes!! Kim and I looked at each other in utter amazement. We had thought the movie would bring laughter, yet we ended up astonished when they continued to cry uncontrollably. The girls, simply put, were heartbroken at the thought of the daddy not getting to say “good‑bye” to the daughter. This makes sense to me, and I’ll tell you why…

This past year has been a quick one. Kim and I verbally adjusted to reciting their ages as “four, four and six,” having upgraded them from “three, three and five.” In so doing, we filled the year with times that, I hope, we will remember forever. We took our first camping trip, complete with a huge bonfire, meals cooked on a griddle, freezing weather that caused us to bundle in a tent, and the smell of “poop” that made us bail back out of the tent. (It seems someone was not too careful using Mother Nature in the dark.) Once awake and out of the tent, we figured a midnight tour of the playground was in order. This I will never forget.

On that night, when the stars were out like millions of Christmas brights (as Brooke says) and the crisp mountain air backed by the sound of the nearby Fall Creek Falls, I had the privilege of pushing my three daughters in a swing set to see “how high” they could go. As a parent, I worried about what I would do if one of them fell out of the swing in that dark night and broke a leg. They did not. Instead, their bounding laughter and bustling spirits exploded into the night air. They had not a care in the world.

I learned a lot from the girls that night. Among other things, they taught me about the source of thunder, which everyone knows is, “when God goes bowling.” Most of all, my daughters taught me to let my heart run free in the wonder of our relationship, a gift I could never have earned.

Lying on the couch with my wife and three daughters tonight, I got chills as I considered the miracle of family, from two who fell in love, now five bodies huddled together as the fire kindled at our backs to help warm us. It is nice when you feel so blessed that you have goose-bumps and shed a tear. At least I will not have to look back on these times and say, “If only I had known how great I had it.” Instead, I’ll keep listening to the sounds of the ultimate bowler, the God of Thunder, and learn about life from my wife and daughters as well.

By the way, do you know what snow is? One clear night, as I was pushing Blair higher in the swing, she told me, “Daddy, it is when the angels sweep heaven.” Silly, I had never known that.

Wesley Ely, MD, MPH
Center for Health Services Research
Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine
Vanderbilt University

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