In the moonlight, her eyes sparkle. She never wears makeup, doesn’t really even prefer it, but she made a concession tonight, for dance. Just now, as we leave the building, a brisk wind lifts a few errant strands of hair away from her ears. The stars rest glittery on her cheeks.
I hold the door, watching my daughter glide through, somehow taller and suddenly more graceful, and she laughs, aware of my appraisal of her. To the right of us, another woman pushes through the door at the same time. I am ashamed to admit that I would not have noticed her were it not for Riley, who immediately glanced that way and called the woman by name, lifting her hand. I watched light catch in the woman’s eyes, as though it had passed between them. Moonlight glints, lifting the veil of darkness.
I’ve seen this happen many times before. Just Sunday, a boy Riley knew and greeted this way sat beside her in a thick knot of us because she alone remembered his name. She glides over places we stumble.
On the way into the dance performance just a few hours before, we had paused at a table to write notes to Riley that would be delivered to her backstage: We’re so proud of you. We love you. We bought a DVD of the performance. I passed the order form over the table–her name, her grade level—still amazed that my sweet-souled girl made this her first choice for an elective.
Dance? Motor-planning has always been difficult, and imitation—especially apart from a lot of practiced repetition–has never been her forte. In the days before the performance, we asked a few times about the dances, and she showed us how she held up her arms like a moon. Kevin narrowed his eyes at me in the kitchen. The protective parent-words flew silently between us. Is that what they’re doing? Making her the moon? It’s happened before that she’s been set aside, muted, partially hidden to keep up appearances, to cover over awkward. You just stand there and be the moon while we dance. You can do that. Riley had spoken about a silver dress, about this song and that song, but besides being the moon she could only say “I really don’t know” when we asked about her movements. She seemed content with this, with not knowing for sure, with lifting her arms above her head as the moon. For her, this was enough. I suspected the performance might make me angry, however. I felt the mama within me curl fierce. They’d better let her be more than the moon. I admit it: I can jump to conclusions. Still, I could not imagine a more beautiful moon, a more stunning reflection than she. So we bought the DVD, passing over the paper.
The lady at the table taking orders beamed, looking down at the order form and back up at us—Kevin and me on the other side of the table; Adam standing to my left, eyebrow-raised and eyes askance, absorbing, flicking glances down at his watch; Zoe, wandering out from behind us to peek into the auditorium. “OH. You’re Riley’s family?”
“Yes.” I couldn’t help but smile. This kind lady was all light, all joy. It scattered out of her with her words, sparking in her eyes.
“I love Riley,” she said. “If only the world were full of Rileys. She’s so open, so positive, so…herself. So honest. She shines. I just love her.”
I don’t know this person’s name, I thought, blinking blurry. But Riley does. Kevin and I stood overwhelmed, unable to speak except to say Thank you, thank you so much.
“You’re good parents,” this kind woman said, and even though those are the generous building words we want to believe, I still wanted to stop her, to lay a hand on her arm and speak the truth: Whatever good you see is God. We fumble and stumble around on the stage, and we’re not very good at imitation without a lot of practiced repetition, but God, He can make a moon out of a girl.
We hadn’t even entered the auditorium, and I’d already seen the silver light Riley casts, the light we catch.
We sat in the front row. Riley ran elegant onto the stage in a faint blue dress that fluttered and rippled behind her. The music sounded like hard notes tinked on an old baby piano, intentional and focused, perseverance etched over delicacy. Riley held her lips carefully, glancing at a friend who danced beside her. She jumped and twirled and lifted her legs always a beat behind and never fully extended. Sometimes she didn’t quite know where to be, until she remembered something, maybe some musical phrase that set it all right. I blinked tears, because I know how much concentration it took for her to follow.
Kevin leaned over and whispered, “So sweet…she’s trying so hard.” His voice fell thick.
Riley’s performance stood out for it’s open effort in a room full of practiced nonchalance. She did not cover over her awkwardness with feigned apathy, nor cower away from the fact that dancing does not come easily for her. I could see, from where I sat, that she wanted to do so well. The intention sparkled on her face. In the second song, I saw the silver dress and her arms held aloft in classic ballerina orb, as Riley had mentioned. She was the moon. But this time, Riley was certainly not hidden or set aside, and like the moon, she only brought light to the stage. She danced. By the end of the third song, sweat beaded on her forehead. And I gave thanks, challenged by the fearless way she walks right out of her comfort zone and just tries. She tries. She risks. And so, God multiplies the blessing of her life. He makes a moon out of a girl.
And by the same miraculous, powerful hand, He teaches me right now that it’s enough to bring light, that the fact that we’re neither smooth nor polished about it is okay as long as we walk right out of our comfort zones and just try. Awkward and open and brave and pure-loving and stumbling sweaty make a moon when we rest in God’s hands. And that moon reflects God, casting light across every shadow.
Dancing or not, that’s what our Riley does, even after the performance is done, even just walking into the brisk night with the stars on her cheeks. She spreads light and helps us see.