I often feel that apparently unrelated events in my life seem to converge around certain points in time around specific themes. I don’t think there’s anything supernatural about that. I think we become attuned to things that may be on our radar screens, conscious or unconscious. It’s a bit like buying a new car; once we consider a certain brand or color, all of a sudden we see them on the road everywhere.
I was at the store today and just after I walked in I saw a young family in the Halloween section right by the entrance. The mother and father were looking through some kind of sale bin that might have had candy in it or some other seasonal thing. They had two kids and one caught my attention. He was about 6 or 7 and while looking through the costumes had put on a mask of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
He snuck up on his father to try to scare him and I was watching this all unfold. I was hoping the father would at least feign terror. The boy came up behind his dad and clawed across his back with a gentle scream. I imagined what I might have done… whirl around perhaps with an exaggerated look of horror and raised hands, or maybe even pretend to be a zombie or monster myself and leave the boy squealing and running! I could feel myself smile as I considered the possibilities.
The father didn’t flinch, didn’t turn around, didn’t acknowledge the boy at all, just kept going through the bin as if nothing at all had happened. The boy tried again and clawed across his father’s back with another faux-scream. It met the same fate. I understand raising a family is like try to perform a juggling act in a whirlwind. I was a single custodial father of five. I am not trying to fault this father at all. I have no idea what his circumstance is. I was sad as I walked on, thinking that a parenting moment, a love moment had been missed. This has been on my mind lately because I’ve missed my share too.
I have a videotape of a Christmas morning (I think it was Christmas) maybe 25 years ago or so. Somebody else was filming and caught the moment where I walked in the door from somewhere and my kids all ran up to me squealing like kids do. I was trying to settle them down and talking past them to others in the room. My daughter was no more than 3 or 4 and was reaching up to me jumping and she was so persistent. I finally did acknowledge her, bent down and kissed her but really all I was trying to do was to get into the room past the gaggle of squealing kids. I took their love for granted and it was another moment missed. What if I had met their enthusiasm in kind? What if I had been awake to that moment, considered their feelings and needs right then and made them paramount? What on earth could possibly have been more important? What if my entire parenting strategy had been focused on nothing more than letting them know they were so dearly loved and that their love was so dearly received?
I had been considering writing a song along with my Songwriting class, which I do from time to time. In a recent class I had simply thrown my hands down on the piano and turned 4 simple chords into an eight-bar phrase. Then I worked with them a little to show the class that, a) not every song they write has to be a magnum opus, but also that, b) the simplest of materials can be unfolded and arranged in quite powerful and fascinating ways. I wanted to go ahead and finish the song that had only taken seconds to conceive.
I live in the Shenandoah Valley for most of the school year, far from any family, my lifelong friends and my musical network. I miss them all, mostly my kids, and I think about how much I would love to be around them so that I can engage, so that I can be part of their lives, so that I can inject moments, love, into their day-to-day. I can descend into a sense of haunting and darkness, almost kicking myself for the many moments I’ve missed. The Christmas video has crossed my mind more than a few times.
In the midst of one episode of haunting I wrote down the line “How Can I Fix It?” in my notebook so I could eventually work it into a song. I felt this was a good time and wanted to do it in this song. That line became the entire chorus. The first verse is about the Christmas imagery and the second has to do with other aspects of relationships where I have had moral lapses and failures and would like to have been able to fix them. They happen more often than they should for the upstanding man of integrity and character I fancy myself in my Great Man fantasies. How can I fix it? How can we take our words back, how can we relive moments? In what ways are do-overs possible and most effective? How can I minimize my need for do-overs in the first place?
Today I received a phone call from a very dear friend whose father was just diagnosed with terminal stage-4 cancer. I was honored to be on the sacred human ground of being brought in to his heart and thinking even a little, to help him put this tender time into some kind of perspective. We talked only a short while but it was rich and full. Families can freak out in the cataclysmic shifts in family calculus that happen when a person who has been a center of gravity leaves this life. My friend is an enviably evolved and open soul.
I was reminded again how important it is for me to make sure the ones I love know that I love them, but perhaps even more important, that they know that their love for me was received. I want them to know that they did a good job of loving and that I looked for it, not for my sake, but so their expressions of love in all its many forms, even in masks, do not fall by the wayside, on deaf ears or blind eyes. I want to receive and internalize as much of their manifestation of love as I can sense. Yes, I scan and search as aggressively as SETI searches the heavens using the best technology it has for a sign that we can reach some other being or that some being is trying to reach us.
Living so far away does not provide many opportunities to scan. I travel often and would travel more. I am grateful for the academic calendar. I only have moments. The moments I’ve missed are gone and I cannot take back words, recapture or relive events. Like Jacob Marley, I wanted to warn the dad in the store of things to come. But like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morn I am still alive after having seen the spirits and I still have breath. There is today and if I am lucky, tomorrow, but what that means is up to me.