Sometimes things happen that convince you there is some large, mysterious power at work, cartwheeling through the cosmos, orchestrating both big and little things, to get your attention, to make you appreciate the brevity of your life.
Our youngest son Dylan, who is almost 4, has his own bed. It’s a perfectly good bed dressed with a soccer ball comforter and lined with stuffed animals yet he still sleeps in bed with Cindy and I.
(I know…not our finest parenting work but let those without parenting sin cast the first fruit snack.)
Anyway, Sunday night Dylan was extra abusive. Fighting for sleep, I was kicked and punched, elbowed and kneed in my face, neck, back and groin.
At 5:15 am, when the alarm buzzed, I awoke with Dylan’s little knee firmly wedged in my left rib cage.
Annoyed, I push his knee away, growled a Monday-morning-up-before-dawn-and-I-have-to-go-to-work growl and slow roll out of bed.
Shuffling across the bedroom, clearing the fuzz from my eyes, I caught Cindy, in a twist of sheets, on her side, hanging at the edge of the bed, as Dylan laid horizontal, uncovered, head tilted skyward and snoring and holding a sly little smile.
In the kitchen…
…between sips of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal I pop two ibuprofen, message the knot pulsing in my back, stare out into the faded blue morning and think about how it was time to take a parental stand, to move the little ramrod down the hall to his room and force him to sleep in his own, perfectly good bed.
The universe sends an email.
I get to school, enter my classroom, drop in my chair, turn on the computer and.wait for the little miracle of modernity to wake up and do its thing.
A few minutes later I find, resting in my inbox, an email from a former student asking for a favor. The student explains how his grandfather just died and how he attached the obituary his father had written.
The student asks if I could proofread the obituary and offer his father some commentary.
Humbled by the request and intrigued by the contents I began to read.
It’s a fine piece, honoring a man I didn’t know but who, by all accounts, lived a full and happy life, a life dedicated to his family.
Then it happened.
As if the universe nudged me, making sure I wasn’t too self-involved on this Monday morning. Making sure I was paying attention.
The obituary concludes with an anecdote about how, when the man was a child he would sleep in his father’s bed. How the father would run his hand through the child’s hair. And how even now, a grown man with thinner hair and with his own children, still remembers the comfort of his now deceased father’s hand and the warmth of the bed they shared.
I lean back, shake my head and launch skyward, beyond the drop ceiling, beyond the school roof, out into the rolling universe, defy gravity, float along and watch the morning bloom across the ceaseless sky only to fall earthward, back to my empty classroom, back to my chair, back to smallness of my life, back to the little knot in my lower back.
The universe throat punches us.
On the night of May 22, 2017, a suicide bomber killed 22 people outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.
The first victim announced on the news was an 8 year old girl.
After I kiss my children off to bed, I helplessly watch the rolling television coverage of the bombing for the rest of night.
Later, in the quiet of my bedroom, when I find Dylan asleep and alive and sprawled across my bed I couldn’t help but think of the empty beds now in Manchester.
Dylan is the youngest of my three children.
He’s almost 4. And my eldest just turned 9. Dylan is my last link to the wonders of infancy — the softness, the smell, the little lungs working inside when they lie on your chest and they breathe and you breathe and you feel the absolute magic of their breath inside you.
I guess for me, Dylan and his growing vocabulary and his budding personality and his sudden self-sufficiency starkly affirm the fleeting nature of time. Of how children grow up, venture beyond your reach and become little bodies open to the mercies of the universe.
On what started as another Monday became a day where the universe made itself known, felt.
Life seems to work that way, one minute your blinded by your own minutia and the next, the universe is there to disciple you.
And when you’re standing over your father’s casket, dreaming of his hand running through your hair or you’ve been suddenly dropped into that nightmare moment, that godless moment of having outlived your child, sometimes, all you can do is lie in bed at night, wonder about the mystery of it all and reach for what is no longer there.