Put aside your beliefs of what is possible and imagine opening your eyes and seeing God. Not the back lit, arms outstretched, hovering in the air with flowing robes God. Imagine if he were just there. Maybe watching TV or sweeping or doing the dishes. A laundry folding God. There to protect you and keep you warm. Saving you from every imaginable danger. Feeding you three times daily and singing you beautiful songs until you fell asleep. A god that would put the sun away when you were tired and one that was there no matter when you cried out for her. A god that knew he was the biggest creature you’d ever seen and spent her time reassuring you that he was always there to protect you.
Now, imagine this god growing old before your eyes. Imagine this god making a handful of mistakes that feel like the end of the world when they happen. God doesn’t make mistakes. One day you realize that it was all a trick. God wasn’t god. She was just a person. Just like you. One that makes mistakes. Not many, but after years of being god it doesn’t take many before you lose faith. How could you have made me so foolish, thinking you were not only special but all powerful? Forget benevolent. A benevolent god wouldn’t have made me so fallible, wouldn’t have been so fallible.
I once watched a NOVA episode on fractals. On the endlessly recurring structural similarities of things. About the Tree whose limbs mimic the parent tree, whose branches mimic the limbs, whose twigs, whose leaves. It was fascinating. It pointed to waves in the ocean being made up of endlessly cresting miniature versions of waves, those made up of even smaller versions of the same. This principle is seemingly isomorphic. Perhaps social science is already settled on this and I’m following a road to an inevitable dead end, I don’t know, I don’t research. To me it looks like their is a good deal of this type of growth in the ever cresting beat of the human story, all of us repeating and taking the rough shape of those that have come before and passing it forward so often to those that come after.
I don’t think there’s any avoiding the fact that someday I will have to apologize to my kids for the mistakes I made. In the midst of all the struggle to be a good parent, of all the effort put in making the best life we know how to make for our kids the truth is that at some point I’ll be held to account for some arbitrary reason and that will build on itself until the ultimate apology might never satisfy someone who is upset that I’m not the reason the sun comes up, I’m not able to assure all the safety I promised, I will make unfair decisions and many wrong ones. I will not live forever and I will not always be there, at least not in the way I promise them I will be. The disappointment is real. I imagine there was a time when my anger left my parents in true pain. Of course it did, they loved me and I was in pain.
This is a point in time in the life cycle of the wave and it to passes.
If you are able to stay around long enough they forgive. Usually long after the time they stop holding you to account for all that they felt broken by. They come to learn that despite not being all knowing, you were incredibly good to them. You were kind and tried your best. You were human, just like they are. Sometimes, as has happened to me only after having kids, they come to marvel at the job their parents did. At the amount of love that was passed on every day in an effort to make sure that you were safe and loved and able to swim. They watched you sink, first in the pool then at the school then with a girl and then with life and all it’s responsibilities they had made invisible to you. They did it all so you could learn to swim, to navigate the lunchroom, to talk to the girl and to pay the bills.
Somewhere in the course of standing up to all those fears, slaying some monsters and climbing those mountains it occurs to you that you aren’t doing it alone. It feels that way at first, but every time you look back they are their cheering. Every time you fail they are their, dusting you off and encouraging you to keep on going. Every step of the way they are holding the back of that bike seat, even after their hand has come off and we do it ‘alone.’ We scream, ‘I did it’ and they cheer, ‘you did it!’ Your win is their win and they share it alone, in their room at night where they take their victories now, quietly so as not to wake you. You need your rest. For there will be mountains to climb in the morning.
As I sit here, atop the peak of the bell curve that is my life I now see the journey of my own parents and I have returned to a place of looking on them with wonder. I’m in awe of the life they’ve lead and feel endlessly thankful for all they did and continue to do for me. I’m more aware and not harboring any illusions about who and what they are and that makes it all the greater. They gave their lives to me and my brothers and sisters and did so graciously and with endless effort to ensure that we would be able to make it.
I look back and see the hills the boys will climb and I gird myself for the journey. It comes with all the unexpected glories and unpredictable pain you can imagine. It’s all of life they will face. I marvel at the journey in front of them, the one I’m only halfway through now. I feel endless empathy for them. I worry for them and am excited for them. I’ll jump every time I see danger coming. A few times too many I’m sure as it will take me longest to learn that they are able. It won’t be a lack of confidence, merely the memory of the boys they were when I was the giant that told them everything would be okay. The one who chased the monsters around the mountains, told them they couldn’t hurt them as long as I was here.
They might never understand. These times, these times that are happening now, they are the most important and indelible moments of my life. They are the parts I suspect will flood me in my last moment on earth. All of it occurring at a time when time is too young to have such importance to them. A time they will forget as they fill their heads with the adventures they need to take to find the life of meaning that their simple existence has provided to me.