The living room had been struck by a toddler tornado.
From one end to the other, the floor displayed the unmistakable signs that my 2-year-old niece Riley had been present. Scattered toys. Well-strewn cookie cutters. Discarded magazines. And not a square inch of carpet to be seen.
But as I started to pick thing up, I realized something was missing.
“Oh, please no …” I muttered, knowing how upset Missy would be if this had been lost or broken. A frantic search finally uncovered the safe-keeping spot my wife Heather had used, out of Riley’s sight and reach. Inside lay a massive Study in Multi-Colored Plastic Brick, an agglomeration that might require its own building code.
Fort Missy was safe.
That’s my name for it, anyway. I’m not quite sure what Missy herself considers it. The broken paths and varied levels could be a city, a labyrinth, a mighty chunk of abstract art. Heather swears it’s an attempt at an airport where a relative once worked.
Whatever it is, it’s required almost every Lego our developmentally-disabled young lady possesses, with minor adjustments here and there to integrate new pieces. Every so often, Heather and I get invited to help with specific bits of the masterpiece, a tiny brick pressed into our hands to make the latest revision.
It’s funny. For months, those Legos had sat in the house, little-used. But lately, they’ve become a passion for Missy, right up there with her morning tea and her bedtime story.
Ever since a certain exhibit hit the Longmont Museum.
You know the one I mean. Everybody in town knows the one I mean. The museum’s “Amazing World of LEGO” exhibit has easily been its most visited ever, and small wonder. Some of the exhibits are jaw-dropping: a Lego-built bicycle, a plastic recreation of Action Comics No. 1, and more.
But the heart of it, and by far the noisiest part, has been the Lego city where child visitors constantly build, demolish and build again. Surrounded by possibilities, they create their own.
Apparently, one visitor took those possibilities home.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, inspiration is a funny thing. It only takes the lightest of touches from the outside to send the mind in a new direction, or unlock a dream that had laid dormant.
For me, a missing word in a Spanish textbook’s glossary helped lead me to journalism.
For my wife, a chance-heard broadcast on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death ignited a lifelong passion for the Beatles. Followed very rapidly by a fascination (if sometimes a joking one) with Bob Dylan.
I suspect everyone has a similar story. Maybe a word in the right place or an image in the wrong one. A picture, a tune, a story that takes root.
It’s a powerful thing. And an unsettling one.
It means we need to be aware of our own actions. A kind word may reverberate longer than we expect; an offhand wisecrack may wound more deeply than we see.
It means we need to tend the fields of inspiration so that they’re there when needed. A museum or a forest. A drama class or a space program. Anything that fills the void with possibilities and imagination.
Because make no mistake, the void will be filled. And if we don’t choose some of those possibilities, they will be chosen for us. Does anyone really want to leave that life-changing touch to the undie-clad pop stars of the MTV VMA Awards?
I didn’t think so.
We all have the power to be givers of dreams. It’s up to us to use it well.
After all, Fort Missy won’t get built by itself.