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where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Tag: fast-forward childhood

that was fast

and there it was.

like that.

in yesterday’s pile of mail. just lying there, that short string of words, taunting me, teasing me, jolting me into the countdown of truth.

class of 2011. g-g-graduation party?

oh my God, i gasped.

now, i’d done that math. long long ago. maybe when still in the womb, in line with all my other fascinations with numbers (i tend to be moored by arithmetic, by adding, subtracting, defining my life in crisp-lined equations), i likely leapt forward in time, determined the points in my unborn’s unfurling story, first uttered the short string of digits, the 2 and the 0 and the pert pair of 1s. barely made sense, that sum of indivisible, indiscernible, parts.

for a good long while, through preschool and early-on years, through multiplication tables and kickball and the odd social fumblings of middle school, it’s just a blurry far-off posting there on the distant horizon, an odd combination you are called to conjure once in a while.

ah, but once your firstborn’s in high school, of course, they fling that digital string at you page after page, form after form, invoice after invoice. why it becomes a part of your child’s identity. he is 2011xxxx in their books.

and i suppose, vaguely, subliminally, ever-rising in consciousness, i’ve started to realize the punch in those numbers.

they are not merely computer-generated ink spurts. they whisper, ever louder, the undeniable truth: kid’s leaving, and here’s the date of departure.

egad.

oh, i’ve started to feel the rumblings. all this talk about college. all this mail that comes day after day. nice mail, fine mail, mail from places that want to harbor my boy.

but graduation party?

someone grab me a stool.

are we r-r-ready for that?

so there i stood in that way that we sometimes do, trying to get my eyeballs to clear out the fuzz, make sure i was seeing this right, not being fooled by some optical wizardry. downright insisted the brain part of the reading department kick into gear, try wrapping its neurons around the letters before me, make some sense of the fast-forward illusion.

hmm, seems to be not a ruse but the real, actual fact. complete with a date, and a comma besides.

coulda logged it onto the calendar. if i had one. for 2011, for cryin’ out loud. geez, i’m just breakin’ in this one, the one with the 0 at the end, instead of two 0s, a fine pair of eyeballs, peering out from the spot in the middle.

while i was busy, um, swallowing all this numerical befuddlement, the little one ran to my side. read round my elbow.

piped up, matter-of-factly, “this is how it will be, dad at work. just you and me.”

oy.

so it might be.

(lord knows, it’s not that i have even a wisp of a twinge at the notion of going along, just me and the little one, it’s just the hollowness of a four-bedroom house in which some of the beds never are mussed. and the towels in the bathroom….oh, never mind…)

so, yes, we will spend the next 15 months seeing that date–june 5, 2011–begin to flash along the roadside like some neon number that refuses to run out of wattage, blinking brighter and louder till it takes over the screen.

and so it goes as we pass through this life, aiming toward targets once miles and eons away, then inching closer, somehow getting so close we can make out the zigs and the crags of the outline. count the hairs on its head.

more often than not, we are propped up along the way, made to adjust to that thing on the far-off horizon.

so i’ve been told, when it comes to this college thing: “oh you’ll be ready, all right. your kid will make you so crazy you’ll cannonball him right out the door. toss the trunks onto the sidewalk, plunking behind him.”

hmm. not yet.

to this day, at nearly the midpoint of second semester junior year, that college-bound kid remains, solidly, squarely, among the most delightful lights in my day, he charms me. entertains me. teaches me, too. he makes me laugh so hard i swear i’ll embarrass myself one of these outbursts. says things that keep me awake thinking at night, not because they’re disturbing, but because they hold so much truth, so much wisdom, and like marrow of bone, i need to suck on it all a good long while to extract every speck of its essence.

so, no, not yet. i am not remotely ready.

and thus, the words on the slip of paper wholly stunned me, stopped me.

i felt the lightning bolt of truth shake through my body, down my arms, into my wrists, onto the tips of my fingers.

and there was the little one, right by my side. taking it all matter-of-factly.

life has a knack for sneaking up on you. and here, at this point on the map, i am noticing all around me, seeing the landscape blur out the window.

we seem to have picked up speed somewhere along here. not long ago, we struggled to learn to pedal a bike, swing a bat, spend the whole night in a tent despite the raccoon that scratched at the flap.

and, kaboom, here we are, getting a notice, high school graduation party. june 5, 2011. mark it, please, on the calendar.

gulp.

that was fast.

what sorts of chapters have crept up on you lately? how did it feel once you arrived? what pangs do you still harbor? or, are you, like me, still peering at that post down the way, teetering bravely, hoping not to topple?

thinking in circles

last night, while i scrubbed the onion burn off the bottom of a pan, i dove in deep in conversation with a mind i have known since delivery, which i think was just the other year.

heck, i can close my eyes and see that brain unborn, an ultrasonic skull, white-on-black on screen, the fuzzy outlines of cerebrum, the big black space i once mistook for lack of brain. until the radiologist talked me off the ceiling. i’ve had my eye on that gray matter since way back, in the beginning.

only last night, suddenly flashed forward, we parsed evil versus harmful. evil, he pointed out, is big picture; harmful is far less sinister in scope. next, he told me why he worries about organized religion; he worries that too many are too judgmental. who do people think they are, he asked, judging other people? it simply makes no sense. the God he knows forgives.

then he tossed out this: “people say you’ve gotta be good because you’ll go to heaven. it’s not about heaven,” he said as if that’s plain as day. “it’s about how you’ll impact other people.
“oy!”

not a heartbeat later, he’d moved onto deep forgiveness and i’d moved onto the pan that steamed asparagus.

he circled the sink and me, the boy who’s walked in circles as he thinks ever since he started thinking, which might have been the original day he lifted foot from ground and placed it back again. nearly 13 years, he’s walked circles ’round me; now, i realized as i grabbed for towel to dab at dripping pan, he thinks circles ’round me too.

when all the pots were clean enough, he and i indulged in sweet dessert—even deeper conversation. we retired to the maple table, we pulled up chairs, an after-dishes tete-a-tete all too rare in the world of over-busy, overburdened children. a tete-a-tete that might be required should anyone ever think to license those who sign certificates of birth.

while he ticked through list of one to twelve, a ranking of degrees of evil, each culled from news reports of recent years, i couldn’t help but note how on the days the news had happened, i’d so fiercely blocked him, little thinker, from this very litany of horrors—columbine, timothy mcveigh, the east texas worse-than-lynching death of james byrd, jr., the black man tied behind a pickup truck and dragged down a country road (my thinker’s pick for evil no. 1), and of course 9-11, which unfolded just minutes after i’d put him, then third grader, on a 12-seat van, newborn in my arms, his first solo ride to school on the far side of the city, a ride that, torturously that september day, coursed him through the shadows of chicago’s tallest towers.

back then, not long ago, i’d not wanted him to know the world could hold such hell.

and now, just minutes later, he was almost-man equipped with mind that studied every shade and shadow of every real-life horror story, probed for what it meant well beyond the news. a mind, i couldn’t help but notice, i could drink like desert water for the rest of all my days.

i shook my head, although he didn’t see me shaking. how, i wondered, did we get to here so fast? how is it that all those bedtime prayers, and all those late-into-the-night conversations, the ones where tears were wiped, the ones where stories told and questions asked sometimes felt like brill-o to my heart, how is it that while i was keeping watch, i swear i was, he had unfolded from little thinker of big thoughts into this mind, this soul, who, as i watch, is sharpening that tool, the way a carver sharpens knives, so he can use it to try to rid the world of what he sees as evil and injustice.

there are not, it seems, too many moments when you freeze the frame, see what’s taking shape before your very eyes. not on-stage moments. not graduations. not holding up a torah, or taking first communion. but right there, at the kitchen sink and just beyond, at the same maple table where you once set your elbows and launched a life of asking big fat questions.

there are a million moments along the road to that maple table and the parsing of degrees of evil that are, simply put, not a lot of fun.

there were fevers when the mercury shot to 105. and back at the beginning, weeks of rocking him beside the tub with the water running hard, something about the rushing sound that soothed (hmm, wonder if that’s why he now takes showers that could go on for hours).

there were schooldays when i heard all about how he’d stood alone on the playground, or perched on the roof of the climbing house, keeping watch on all the other children playing games without him.

and then we up and moved in the middle of fourth grade, and he endured a whole semester as the new kid from the city, the kid who in a town where baseball truly mattered, barely ever got on base, and swung at nearly every ball.

but sitting at that table, watching how he thinks, realizing that i was talking to a soul i couldn’t have designed to be more nourishing to my own soul, i couldn’t stop the warming down my spine: i’d do it all, all over again. in a blink, please sign me up.

it is perhaps the sweetest after-dinner morsel i’ve tasted in a long, long time: half an hour being circled by my firstborn child.

might i mention that it is exceedingly hard to write about how you love your growing-up child. i groped my way through the dark just now. i do it not to say how wonderful he is–that’s not the point at all. i do it to hold up the fact that here we are, some of us, in the very blessed front-row seat, watching the spectacle of true creation. it is almost unspoken, shared perhaps in pillow talk, the truth that what we’re watching takes our breath away. this is, i hope and pray, a place where we can whisper out loud the things not spoken often elsewhere. it is majesty, in rawest form. and though it’s hard as heck to put words to God’s most divine creation, i thought it worth a take. this, after all, is life in roughest draft. as always, i pull in close, i would love to hear your thoughts…

and while you’re at it, please, keep my blessed friend susan and her mama in your prayers. they could use a few today.