Saturday, April 5, 2008

That Was Then, This is Now

All things come around.

After an abysmal week at work, I slept not at all Friday night with a mind full of worries and regrets and strange dismal dreams.

I awoke with eyes feeling like sand had been ground into them, and all signs suggested that it wouldn't be much of a Saturday. A bad day, though, is the very best time to just get on with the chopping wood and carrying water, and so I did. There were dozens of routine chores around the house to take care of, and there is a kind of dignified elegance to tending to small details when you're feeling depressed. It's awfully good therapy.

Then, about noon, my son appeared downstairs.

"Hey, old man," he said. "Got anything we can build today?

Well, now, there was a thought. Not much better than tinkering with hardware on a bad day.

This is something of a joke around my house, the fact that I will try to fix and build almost anything around the home. My knowledge far exceeds my skill though, and it's a running joke that if you look closely, the signs of my imprecision and lack of motor skills are evident. My daughter likes to grab my hands and hold them up to new friends, pointing out the stitch marks and scars from various battles. My sons friends joke whenever they come over, wanting to know what I'm building now. "Can you teach us something?" one will say. "My dad can't even change a car tire."

Though he had worked the overnight shift at one of two jobs he tends while trying to make the leap from college grad to career man, Boy was rather bright-eyed and serene after just a few hours of sleep. He's now in job interviews and apartment hunting, as well, and so he has a fresh haircut and is generally clean-shaven, which also helps.

So on Saturday we added some roof gutters around a section of the back porch that has been funneling water into the window well for the basement egress window--which happens to the last building project Boy and I tackled a year ago.

So we listened to the ball game on a radio as we measured and cut and nailed and screwed. And we made a total of four trips to the hardware store, since no American man ever manages to get everything he needs in just one trip. And the trips to the store were actually the best part of the day. Men, they love their hardware. The last trip to the hardware store was a lark: we bicycled there to buy wrenches with which to tune up our bikes. Boy teases me about the old-man bike I've just bought--I no longer have any interest in being streamlined, and it's just fine to sit bold upright where I can see things and my back doesn't protest.

Sometimes I regret that my son and I don't share more interests. But then I pause and reflect on the fact that we'll occasionally go to rock concerts together to see guitarists we both admire, that we've been to action films together twice in the last two months. There is a pretty unique pleasure to having a 23-year old son who is a good, responsible man, well adjusted and friendly to people. And moreover, one who not only tolerates his dad, but seeks me out to do things. I couldn't say the same thing about myself at age 23. I never really did get to know my dad. Still don't.

Odd thing. People have asked me what was my favorite age as the kids were growing up, and upon reflection I always recognize that their current ages are always my favorite. I've never got more pleasure from parenthood than I do right now. I will admit, though, that it's the thought of toddler grandchildren, just beginning to master language, that I'm now looking forward to.

Then on Sunday, I drove over to the University to watch my daughter, a freshman, compete as one of the coxwains on the University rowing team. This is big time Division 1 college athletics, and she made the team as a walk-on, while also earning an academic scholarship and studying Chinese and global politics. So Sunday was spend with my other child, sitting in a comfortable chair on the banks of the Mississippi and reading buddhist philosophy in between races while sipping hot tea. Her team won three times.

This is very early spring in Minnesota, and although it was mild in temperature, the limestone walls of the river valley were still coated with glacial ice on the far side, where the direct sun doesn't shine. It's chilly over there. Then my eyes raised a little higher and I was startled to suddenly recognize the big brick building on the far side of the river, sitting high up on the bank. Riverside hospital. A gust of wind came up and I shivered. I counted up to the windows of the seventh floor of the hospital. More than 30 years ago, that's where I spent the better part of a year staring out at the world and not knowing if I would ever really emerge again.

How very strange. Only thirty years, and yet this is an entirely different river I see today.


Brian said...

Okay, you've got my curiousity up now. Don't mean to pry into your personal life, but I'm dying to know what happened to you seventeen years ago.

BTW, great hearing about your kids. Mine are all teenagers now and I'm really enjoying it.

Mercurious said...

32 years ago, Brian. I was stark raving then.Now I just rave, happily.

That I found a way back, rather than winding up sleeping on concrete beneath underpasses, is the thing that convinces me to honor the spirit.

Shimmerrings said...

Hurrah! You made it... and what a beautiful life you've made. It sounds out of a fairytale. Perfect job, perfect kids. Perfect life. You seemed to have certainly earned it... then again, it's always ours to make as we choose. Good focus you have :)

Brian said...

Sorry, I don't know why I ended up writing 17 instead of 32. I'd really love to hear the details. It sounds like a very inspirational story. Do you have it written somewhere? If not consider it a request for a future post (if you feel comfortable sharing - I'd understand if you didn't want to).

August said...

I love the way these quiet deliberations have a kind of circular effect.

I did exactly the same with my father. I'd raise his Mr. Fix-It hands for all my friends to see. Even when they were washed they still looked dirty–– from all the scars and oil stains.


Glamourpuss said...

Ah, with each post I respect you more. Time. It's a curious thing, but I suppose in many ways, it's what makes the journey a journey.


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Zoe said...

There's always more isn't there? Life. What a journey.

I've been on the 7th floor of a hospital fighting for my life. Maybe 18 years ago now? As I reached this part of your post, I too shivered and my heart beat increased.

Thank god you emerged (and I mean that in the best non-theistic way possible.) *smile*

the chaplain said...

Beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

The river is always entirely different from one moment to the next. You can never step in (or sit beside) the same river twice. The river flows. You change. The earth turns.

You and your life are triumphs of the human spirit, my friend. Your strength changed not only the course of your own life, but the lives of generations to come.

Those toddler grandchildren you hope for will never know the pain and fear you knew because you broke that cycle. You opened yourself and your children and their children to a whole new way of life, a whole new world.

In this world, you sit safely on the bank of the river watching your beautiful daughter glide on its back.

Hell of a deal. Just a hell of a good deal.

sacred slut said...

I respect your spirituality, even when I don't agree with it. I think it's a great thing that you have found a way that works for you.