we were all up early this morning, making sure the crew bag was packed, not an oar was left behind.
i was stirring oatmeal, the complex carbohydrate requested as regatta fuel. oh, there was a long bus ride before the rower put boat to water, but since we weren’t going along, since this was the first such big-time race, and since all this is new, well we all had a little vrroom in our morning’s engines.
we’d been tugged from the start about not being able to go along. plenty of parents do. why this crew crew sets up a tent, cooks hearty breakfast, hot lunch, back-to-back, for all the hungry, waterlogged rowers. “like throwing a two-meal wedding every weekend,” was how it was described, the night the rower’s papa sat scribbling notes in the meeting for the rookie parents.
doesn’t matter, not one bit, to these dedicated folk, that the rivers and waterways where paddles are put to current are halfway across the country. they just set the alarms a little earlier, start driving deeper in the dark, get there in plenty of time to hoot and holler from the riverbanks.
but, well, we couldn’t ride along in the caravan of cars. this time, this first time, here we are. and there he goes, our young rower, who now sports the purple heart of every fledgling rower, a literal bruise mid-chest, one that makes a mama wince, but one that he wears proudly. proves he pulls the oar hard, smacks steel to flesh, doesn’t slow for pain.
oh, yes, all this is fresh here in the house where we are used to painful all-night studying and typing till the wee, wee hours. but going through a box of band-aids a week, what with all the blisters. swallowing hard every time i see that purple heart. oh, geez, this is different.
so while i dropped raisins by the handful into that bubbling pot of oats, i turned and saw the man i love with pen in hand. i’d thought he was paying bills, scribbling zeroes onto checks, but then i glanced again. grew curious enough to ask, “who you writing?” wondering what correspondence needed attention so very early in the morning.
in one swift syllable, he answered that he was writing to our firstborn, the rower with the duffel by the door.
that’s when i heard my heart go thump. thump-thump, even.
see, i’m the one around here who can’t keep pen from paper. for years now, i’ve tucked love notes into lunches, slid them under pillows, dropped them like rose petals onto desks aswirl in papers.
i’m most often the one streaming streamers high and low, for birthdays, for triumphs of even minor proportion. so much so, i now have to apologize when i forget to whisk away the shreds of evidence and, oops, high school friends come by, might rib him just a tad, for the over-the-top mother who is his.
if there are stacks of notes and envelopes stashed in his drawer–and there are–nearly every one of them is in the boxy, ample cursive that is mine, not the tight-held pen of his father. not so many anyway.
and so, while i stoked my rower’s belly–and hopefully his heart–with oats and raisins, it seems his papa felt inclined to reach into the box where he keeps his heavy-weight ivory papers, the ones with his name inscribed in manly gray.
while i stirred and prayed for safe return, his papa pulled up to the breakfast table, and penned words that i’ll not get to read.
this was, whatever it was, between father and son. this was something that stirred straight from his heart, and onto paper, courtesy of black-ink pen.
i’ve gotten notes from that pen myself. keeper notes. notes that take my breath away, because often, amid the well-picked words, there is one sentence with such deep knowing, it leaves me gulping, swatting back a tear.
to be known, after all, is to be triumphant in this race called life.
you can live a whole life long, and not know that someone’s paying attention, someone’s listening.
sometimes that’s all it takes to make the difference between life and death. life and death of the soul, that is. that part of us that is so darn hungry to be known, heard, seen in all our bumpy, stumbling glory.
oh, we’re not cover girls or movie stars, not most of us. just plain old lumpy humans who make mistakes by the hour, who screw up, forget, fudge the story, bounce the check, come home from the grocery store without the one thing we set out to get.
but we all can dream. and dream we do. fact is, we get up most mornings trying to get it right, at least one something before the day goes cold and dark.
and sometimes, it’s ink on paper, it’s someone wise, someone we look up to, taking the time to sit down, put it in writing. it’s the closest thing there is to hallelujah.
and what the rower’s papa wrote, i’ll not know.
nor does that matter.
what’s touched me here, what made my big bass heart go kaboom, is that clearly there’s a river flowing, from a father to a son. and whatever words he wrote, i’ll guess there’s a fatherload of pride.
that papa rides the kid hard sometimes. expects plenty in the report card department. has been known to growl.
but watching that kid come home from sweating in the gym, freezing on the water, night after night, week after week now, so exhausted, so achy shin to shoulder, seems to stir something altogether else in his papa. something mamas might not wholly comprehend.
i wince, run from the room when he flips back the bedsheets in the morning, when that damn bruise is bared.
not his papa. i think he might swell with new-found atta-boy.
not sure what he wrote in that two-sided note, the one he proofed, read top to bottom one more time, before he slid it, sealed it in the envelope.
all i saw, penned onto the front, was the name we gave that boy long, long ago when he was but a dream and a bump in my belly.
i saw that black-inked name, on the white-faced envelope, lying on his crew bag, the one he swooped up from the front hall when the ride came, the one he slung over his shoulder as he waved, pulled his long legs in the car.
as i wiped away a tear, whispered words of prayer, one more time, for safekeeping.
and then i turned, closed the door. and the boy with the note from his papa rode away.
i’m fairly certain, of all the words i don’t know on that slip of paper, that i do know one part.
it was signed, i’m sure, love, dad.
and what other words could matter more?
did your papa, or your mama, or someone who really mattered ever tell you that he or she was proud? if it wasn’t in writing, how’d they let you know? do you remember how it felt? have you told the same to someone you love lately?