When Luisa and I went to Portugal for the first time, we went to the beach one afternoon to watch the fisherman bring in the catch of the day. People crowded the shoreline as the colorful boats ran ashore and we all watched as the men pulled the nets out and dropped them on the sand where the ground itself seemed to come alive as the fish writhed and flashed silver in the afternoon sun. After we walked away and found a quiet place, I waded into the ocean, my hands clenched at my sides and my shoulders up near my ears as I felt the cold water from the Atlantic crash against my legs. Luisa sat on the beach behind me and warned me against wading in further. “The tide is strong and can pull you under unexpectedly.” I laughed and ignored her because I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the sky and the water and the day we’d had together. I pulled up the edges of my shorts and took a few more steps and turned to smile at her and, suddenly, the water surged and took my legs out from under me and I went under, fully clothed. I came up gasping and shaking, though the only injury was to my pride.

Everyday life can have a similar pull. On any given day, there are so many things I must do that I sometimes lose track of everything around me. The demands of everyday life can be like that wave pulling me under, obscuring the horizon.

Last week, I had one of those days. I was irritable because I had work to do, errands to run, and my daughter hadn’t gone back to school yet. She was also in a bad mood, which was unfortunate because the two of us were going to be alone for the evening. I spent the afternoon working at the library and tried to snap out of my crabbiness, but I returned home to have dinner with my daughter in the same foul mood.

After Luisa left with our son, I asked my daughter if she wanted to go out to dinner that night or lunch the following day while we finished shopping for school clothes. I was surprised when she chose dinner and a place close to our house. I said, “Great. We’ll walk.” She sighed heavily and asked if we could drive and I held firm — we were walking.

We left the house and walked in tense silence through the park and then I stopped when I noticed a grasshopper on the sidewalk. I pointed it out to my daughter and she quickly knelt so that she could observe it. I knelt down beside her and we stared at it for a while, pointing out the different markings and watching it twitch. I asked if she wanted to pick it up and she said she did but didn’t know how. I told her to cup her hands around it and she did as I said but was afraid to sweep it into her hand because she didn’t want to hurt it.

I leaned over and said, “I’ll get it for you.” I gently scooped the grasshopper into my hands and could feel it moving and hopping and I laughed as I passed it into my daughter’s waiting hands. She held it as it squirmed and she looked at me and laughed before bending down to set it free.

The wonder of staring at that grasshopper, the tickle in of it in our hands and our laughter shook loose the tension within and between us. I grabbed her hand and she squeezed mine tightly in return and we walked the rest of the way together.

As a parent, it is often hard to balance work and family and I am too easily carried away in the tide of daily minutiae. I think about that day in Portugal and all the other times I'm driven to go and do rather than stop and listen. That moment with the grasshopper reminded me that it’s important to appreciate the beauty of a small moment. Those moments won't always change your life but they can certainly change your day. 

PHOTO CREDIT: VIKKI REICH

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