September 11, 2022 Essay: Merely a Puddle, or Something More?

Sep 8, 2022

Recently, I was walking along Park Avenue, as is my wont on sunny afternoons in the summer. The dark sky of the early morning transformed itself into azure blue with billowing white clouds dancing in irregular cadence far above the hectic pace of the streets below. The earlier rain of that day proved to be the harbinger of a precious gift that is longed for after an extended succession of sultry days. The freshness of the air was intoxicating. As I walked, it became evident to me that I was not the only one walking at a slower than usual pace in order to relish the lavishness of refreshing breezes. What I also noticed were the evaporating footprints of the earlier rain, puddles.

Have you ever noticed how young children are drawn like magnets to puddles of water and the elation they exhibit when they either stomp their feet into them or jump smack dab into the puddles’ centers? In our busy lives, as we hurriedly walk from place to place on city streets, do we even notice puddles, or take the time to look closely at them? After all, aren’t puddles traps, idly waiting to soak the shoes and socks of unsuspecting pedestrians? And if we do notice them, how we maneuver through them as though they were an obstacle course.

On this particular day as I was approaching the intersection of Park and 79th Street, a mother and her young daughter caught my attention. They were walking hand in hand, the girl being no older than a preschooler. As they got nearer to the corner, before we passed by one another, the young girl stopped and letting go of her mother’s hand, looked down into a puddle that was at her feet. She did not walk into it, jump into it, or stomp her foot into it. Rather she approached the puddle from several vantage points and simply looked into it. Her mother bemused, smiled at her daughter, as I did when I walked past them. What did this young girl see that captivated her?

This seemingly unremarkable incident became the focus of my thoughts for the remainder of that day and a well-spring for my own imagination and reflection. Did this young girl think that this blue patch was a piece of the sky that had fallen to the ground and was now part of the sidewalk? Did she believe that clouds were actually made of cotton candy or fluffy marshmallow, and she needed a closer look? Was she trying to understand how she could see her own face mirrored at her feet? Was it an opening to another world? Or, was she simply showing early signs of a future career in meteorology? Whatever it might have been, I like to think that she found something beautiful in an unexpected place and held onto it for as long as she could under the loving gaze of her mother.

In this shallow puddle on a city sidewalk, that was undoubtedly unnoticed by countless passersby, I believe she beheld a reflection of something transcendent, something detached from her and, at the same time, part of her reality. She was gazing at a reflection of herself in the ordinariness of a pooling of water. She took a few moments to peer at herself intently and from many angles, and she took delight in what she saw.

It may not be a puddle of water, but we, like this young girl, in the ordinary routine of our lives, have opportunities to look at ourselves. Are they quick glances? Are they the means to reassure ourselves that we look handsome and are defying the aging process? Are we wishing that the reflection we see was of someone else rather than the person looking back at us? Perhaps this little girl can teach us a lesson. She beheld someone beautiful. Under the watchful eye of her mother, she saw a reflection of someone God loves. In fact, she saw a reflection of God. Whether a cotton candy cloud, an azure blue sky, a puddle of water, or her own face, she beheld the face of God in everything God created.

A trivial incident on the grand scale of things as I took my afternoon stroll that day, but I was taught a profound lesson through the innocent inquisitiveness of a young girl walking hand in hand with her mother. Was it an encounter with a puddle on a city sidewalk, or something more? What a moment of grace offered to us each day if we only stop to take a closer look!

— Rev. Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor