Taken for Granted

More than anything in the world I’m grateful that we will have pizza this week. And vegetables. Fresh and frozen, canned. Whatever. I’m grateful that we know with near certainty that we won’t spend a minute thinking about whether or not we can eat.

I don’t always appreciate how safe I am. I lie in the dark and wonder if I left a lock unturned. I wonder if that was someone downstairs. I think about what is nearby that i could use to club a potential burglar or worse. Then I wait and wait and I forget about it and I go back to distracting myself with pictures of family and tales of struggle and memes that make me laugh. I watch highlights and listen to comedians interview each other on podcasts that I hear on my phone which can access, essentially, all human knowledge. I do all of it knowing I am not likely to have war greet me at the door. My children are not likely to learn the worst of life until they are ‘ready’ and then they will do so through books and movies and lessons and not life. I know the further out I project the less sure I can be of these things, but I’m confident.

I see pictures of children who are being greeted by a world that is roiling with chaos and violence the likes of which I can’t even truly imagine without a sheen of Hollywood staging and two dimensional falsehoods that are stored in my brain as images of war. Then a picture will turn up in the news of a child, a toddler, old enough to process but not enough to understand, if there is such an age, why the men are killing everyone, why these bombs are coming for them and I fall to pieces. I question everything. I wonder why I’m not doing more.

I didn’t know the gut punch of these pictures, these images until I had my boys. Until I had the identity of a parent. I could Identify tragedy, yes, but I feel it so very viscerally now. I see the confusion and fear and courage and bravery on the faces of children enduring war and I shutter at what they know. No 4 or 5 year old should know what these children know. I fall to pieces.

I don’t appreciate how good I have it and I never will. But at times it becomes starkly real when I see the world I’m protected from. The world I continue to place safely out of view. One I care about, want to change but am determined to not see. I don’t think this makes me a bad person, relatively speaking. Relatively speaking I’m fine. But I’m also selfishly and honestly and determinedly invested in keeping my boys out of those pictures. Out of harms way. Safe in this place where even the greatest tragedies, thus far are little more than inconveniences and mild disappointments when seen in the grand scheme of things.

I wish I was better than I am. I wish you were. I wish anyone who could would walk into hell and walk these children and their families out. I’d be so incredibly happy to help them, from here.

Life, Death, Me and Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is many things. Many of which might make it hard for someone to see his humanity. He’s a famous person, which seems to be enough of a reason for many to dismiss someone as a thinking, breathing, feeling person with 99.9% in common with the rest of us. He’s an artist as well, producing art and putting it in the world, another reason for people to feel not only dismissive of one’s humanity but entitled to say cruel things about something that a person clearly has put out as an extension of at least a part of themself. He’s also a vulgarian, a trait many of us find endearing but one that alienates many, I’m sure.

Whatever else he is he is also human. And tonight, while I was doing the dishes and listening to him eulogize his dear friend and colleague, Alan Rickman, I found myself crying. Tears falling and breath heaving in fits and starts as I listened to someone processing publicly, generously, their feelings of loss, their sadness and perhaps something so universal and personal as mortality.

Much of what I write about here is parenthood. I find it to be an experience that provides, amongst so many profound and beautiful and human things, a bridge to connectedness. I’m not a dogmatic believer and I’m not one prone to much magical thinking. What I am, like Mr. Smith, like you and like my kids and yours, is human.

One of the things I’ve learned with age is that humanity is capable of inspiring wonderment and awe. It can summon it’s natural state of curious sentience and without intending to draw out an emotional response from me, one that can take my breath away and instill emotion in me that can circle and swirl throughout my being and bring tears that I have no control over. I know that we are merely actors on a tiny stage in a giant universe and too often we can overestimate our capacity to know what meaning there is. What is not lost on us is love and death. The rest we get wrong a lot. But love and death, well, they amount to meaning to me. Meaning I can’t and don’t want to analyze or understand fully. Meaning that I want to live in and die amongst.

It’s strange to be in my 40’s with such young kids. I didn’t plan it this way, at least not from the start. But now that I’m here I’m privy to so much of life. Every day I revel in the world my children are discovering. Worlds full of what I’d mistakenly come to think of as ordinary and mundane before they retrained me. They are able to reintroduce me to the world and are able to reignite within me the spark of curiosity, the fire of creativity. They move me to joy and deliver an endless bounty of love to my life in between testing me by walking me to frustration and even occasionally nudging me toward rage. At the same time it’s a time of life when I can’t help but notice mortality. It’s creeping in at the edges of my life and it’s a present reality in the day to day lives of so many people I care about. I have visions of my parents at my own kids graduations and weddings and even holding their great grandkids someday. I can even imagine them at my funeral, one where I’m being interred at a ripe old age having died of too much life. I can imagine myself dying. That seems natural to me. But even in my minds eye I see my parents there looking down lovingly on me, happy to have known me, sad I won’t be around anymore. It’s crazy, but it’s true. Because I live in denial and fear, the knowledge, like so many of the rest of us do, those of us still able to hug our parents and tell them that we love them, that a day will come when my world will die and it will be at once the most natural and human experience one can imagine and it will also be the most devastatingly painful reality I can conceive of while still being able to live.

I cried tonight listening to someone share what it means to be human. When I was younger I couldn’t cry. Now I can and I do. If I’m really moved it’s like a fit of uproarious laughter. I can’t control it. I can stop thinking about the funny thing, but eventually I have to think of it again, and when I do, the tears and gut busting roars of laughter come right back and they won’t go until they are done, regardless of my schedule. It’s kind of wonderful. Likewise, feeling the pain, or sorrow, or whatever emotion it is that emanates from others when they are hurting also arrives and departs on it’s own schedule. This empathy is meaning to me. It’s a style of connecting and it’s redemptively human. It’s why we grieve communally. It’s how we express respect. It’s how we honor each other. It’s how we share humanity. ┬áIt’s empathy and it’s what keeps us together and unites us in the end. We all can empathize with loss. We all will succumb to mortality and if we are all lucky we will all know love in many forms.

Kevin Smith lost a friend last month. A dear friend and each and everyone of us knows what that means. It is what makes us special. It’s what makes our lives have meaning.

I am so very sorry for your loss, Mr. Smith. I hope that in time you will be able to tell the stories of your friend and feel at least an ounce of comfort in feeling his presence again and having a laugh with him, or even a cry, from time to time.

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