The forecast had rain all day and we were still on edge of this pandemic. We were stuck in the house. We did chores, played board games and the kids sat on the couch with screens in their hand. And though they had helped with folding blankets and cleaning their rooms, their attention to work hadn’t lasted long.
We had thought about venturing out to Ponce City Market, but we knew with kids we’d simply use that time to eat and pay $50 for a sack of Atlanta’s best hamburgers and a milkshake we’d share and feel awful the rest of the afternoon.
Around noon, the rain cleared and the sun popped out. It was spring in Atlanta. Spring is why you live in Atlanta if you can deal with the pollen. But the rain had calmed it, the sun was warm on your face and the damp yards were drying.
I told my eight year old, “Let’s go play basketball.” It was a game she was learning to enjoy like I had at her age.
“No, I want to stay here,” she said.
“We must go. You like basketball and we’ve been inside all day.”
“Fine. Let’s go.”
There’s a goal near our house that belongs to the neighbor who leaves it on the road because it’s one of the few not heavily traveled in Atlanta.
We shot basketball for a good twenty minutes. She loves the game knock out that she plays with her friends during the week and I didn’t let her win for the first 5 games until she beat me for real and was thankful and perturbed.
I said, “All right, let’s play my game. You have to pretend there’s 5 seconds left. I have the ball and am down by a point. You’re guarding me.”
It took some nudging but she came around and tried to steal the ball. I counted down the clock and scored an easy lay up to show her the thrill of a last minute triumph. And then she took the ball and said, “But what’s this? The time was actually wrong. There were three extra seconds.” She missed the shot. And we repeated the countdown.
The grey clouds had moved back in and the wind had picked up blowing the fallen azaleas blooms on the sidewalks. It didn’t faze Katie too much. She wanted to play the countdown game again and I certainly would rather walk home in wet clothes than hurry home to sit more on the couch. I let her have the ball. The goal was regulation height which took some effort from an eight year old. I began the countdown. Each time she missed, she repeated that line with all the life of a determined, pesky and happy 8 year old, “But what’s this?” And she’d use that line until she finally made the shot. It was her way of refusing to admit defeat to me.
“Where did you learn that line, ‘but what’s this?’ I have never heard you use it.”
“It’s all mine.”
Although I believed she picked it up at school, I didn’t argue the point. We walked home in the rain until we got close and we started racing towards the front door. As she was getting close, she zips past me with her famous, “But what’s this?” and runs inside.
And though, of course, she meant nothing theological with those words, I find them to be true to Christian faith. It’s a fine way to look at faith. When defeat swamps our dreams, when we shrink before the mystery of death, when guilt collapses in on us and sadness wanders in like an old friend, God’s story of cross and resurrection calls out to us with a hopeful and pesky refrain, “But what’s this?”