Tag Archives: Fatherhood

An Actress of Uncommon Stature

15 Nov

medea_diana_rigg_programme_lo_res

The performance begins without prelude.

Quietly at first, as we await our breakfast, Hallie catches sight of herself in the mirror and begins to chatter, rapidly but softly, with an intense staccato that slowly builds as, with virtuosic restraint, she works her way, rung by rung, up to the emotional highwire where, finally, she releases all in a swooning crescendo, her arm sweeping the sky as she falls away in a blood curdling “Noooooooooooo!”  A brief pause follows, and then she strains against the straps of her booster chair to check her reflection. Pleased with the effect, and the attention she has drawn, she drops back into her seat, spent from the culminating moments of her five-year old Medea.

But wait! Gathering her energies, she takes a breath and begins again. Initially terse, she launches into a finely wrought internal monologue, a soliloquy of intent.   Passionate, yet controlled, my daughter is rapidly developing into an actress of uncommon stature, her brilliance taking us all by surprise. Certainly, genetics has played a role, but she is now far beyond any gifts inherited from Amy and I, and her talent is all her own.  As a result, in some instinctive fashion, she has gone back, far beyond the modern canon, beyond even Shakespeare, to the primal works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Not yet regal of bearing, she has, nonetheless, thrown down the gauntlet, challenging the great classical actresses of our time with her staggering combination of intensity, intimacy, and emotional commitment, all expressed with a banana-smeared face and only the rudiments of language.

For Hallie will speak in only the simplest of sentences.  Stubbornly refusing to use three words when one will do, she has expanded this approach into her own unique and rapidly developing oeuvre through which she proves, with each and every performance, that words are merely an adornment to great acting, a crutch for those who lack her artistic rigor and wide open heart.

Suddenly quiet, something shifts, and Hallie enters a different world. The intensity is still there, but it’s combined with a wry sense of amusement, a fatality which, in one so young, is both disturbing and mesmerizing. Could she possibly be…? Yes! She has moved on to Baby John, the youngest Jet in West Side Story! What am I witnessing here? Is she performing in back to back productions? Or has she interpolated the two plays, creating an extraordinary mash-up through which, with her loudly erratic personal rhythm and no sense of pitch whatsoever, she can deconstruct the American musical in a manner that challenges the very boundaries of theatrical convention?

The food arrives and Hallie settles in, glancing across to the mirror and smiling to herself as she begins to eat her scrambled eggs.  Fully aware of the ground she has broken and the ambitious heights she has yet to scale, she is an innovator to her toes, and I fear for the resistance she will meet. Luckily, though, our daughter is fearless, and cares nothing for the critics. Performing only for herself, she alone knows the perfection she pursues.

The rest of us are just lucky to catch a glimpse.

Hallie zoo

Grand Haven, Summer 2013

16 Oct

Grand Haven Postcard

The week has almost passed and I have yet to see a sunset.  I’ve missed them all.  Every single one.  I love my family, but moving all four of us in any specific direction can be a bit like turning an ocean liner.  And as our vacation draws to a close, my patience has worn thin.

“I need to get out.  Just for an hour or so.”

Thankfully, Amy agrees.  As I head for the door, I add, “Hey Heath, do you want to go for a walk on the beach?”  And miraculously, he says yes.

Walking beneath the planks of the porch above, and then climbing the wooden stairs, we leave behind the cool green world of our cozy apartment, tucked down the side of a wooded dune, hidden in the trees which surround The Khardomah, a ramshackle 1870 hunting lodge turned boarding house where we’ve been spending our week.  Heath and I cross the quiet street, and as we head down the gently curving road we pass the original Highland Park cottages; the Loch Hame, the Bonnaire, and others, built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when this land was nothing but forest and sand, and far enough from town that, for a time, it had its own trolley line. 

As we round the bend, Lake Michigan opens before us, a vast, inland ocean whose sudden appearance down these steep, curving roads, never fails to take my breath away.  We look out over the beach, windblown under dense gray clouds, extending north to the town’s most famous landmark, the South Pier, its dark candy red lighthouse temporarily shrouded in the gray primer and netting of a late summer paint job.  The green flag on the lifeguard stand flaps in the breeze, indicating it is safe to swim, but the water is largely empty due to its unseasonable chill.  There had been red flags earlier in the week, not for riptides, as is usually the case, but for hypothermia, and while I did not swim on those days, the water remained cold enough throughout the week to give me a chill that was hard to shake.  

From the top of the hill we make our way down four long flights of stairs, through the sand and dune grass, to the road, where we stop to check for cars, then skitter across and into the parking lot, before kicking off our shoes and stepping into the clean, white sand, cool now this late in the day. The water writhes beneath the overcast sky, a chaotic world of gray and white, and the sunset looks hopeless.  But as we approach the gentle roar of the shoreline, the evening breeze ruffles my son’s hair.

I ask him if he wants to walk down to the pier, and he says “Sure.”  And so we begin.  Walking easily.  Relaxing into each other.

A pair of jet skis scream from far out in the water, their noise, amplified by the open distance, seeming oddly loud to be coming from such small bouncing shadows.  Heath asks what they are, and I tell him that, basically, it’s a couple of guys flying around on floating jet engines, and that on a day like this it must be a pretty rough ride.  He asks why anyone would want to do that, and I tell him I haven’t a clue.

The water is cold against our feet, and Heath is timid at first, skipping awkwardly back up above the waterline every time a wave rushes in.  But slowly, he acclimates, growing bolder and stepping further out into the cold, reveling in his own courage. 

“Oh My God! I can’t believe how wet my pants are getting”

“Well, here.  You need to roll them up.”

I step out into the water and roll his long shorts up above his knees, soaking mine in the process, his laughter contagious.

Heath has Asperger’s Syndrome, and, as a result, so many things have been difficult to share.  His mind is sharp, and his passions are strong, but his palette is limited.  Going outdoors is troubling, exercise is not his friend, and moving him beyond a computer screen is a battle gently waged on a daily basis.  And yet here we are, on a whim, walking the waters of my childhood.  And with every step I can see something inside him ease.

The jet skiers call it a day, their sputtering, high-pitched whine fading into the distance, and as the light begins to retreat, we make our way down the beach, passing three boys who have built a small mound of sand, and are now wrestling about, each one struggling to be king of the hill.

At the pier I show Heath a shortcut up the rocks, and having reached the top, we follow the battered concrete out from the shore, walking beneath the catwalk, passing  the last few tourists as we make our way around the lighthouse and then out toward the foghorn, its deep, melancholy moan, one of my first memories, long ago replaced by a smooth sonic “ping “.  Stepping around its squat red bulk, we come to the end.  Three fisherman, their equipment scattered about, stand before an infinity of water and sky.  A reel hums as a one makes a cast.  His sinker plops as it hits the water and disappears into the darkness. 

As we head back toward shore, the lights are coming on in the cottages, stars among the hills.  Reaching the end, we scramble down to the sand, and Heath heads back to the water, greeting the waves as long lost friends, kicking at them, and delighting in the galaxies that explode off the ends of his feet.  Looking back, I see the pier lights come on, and notice, up above, in the northwest , a small opening in the clouds, it’s edges stained orange and red, the colors beginning to leak across the sky.  Heath continues on, wading up to his knees, smashing at the rushing water. 

Both brooding and vibrant, a vivid rose now dusts  the turbulent blue-gray clouds in every direction.  And then, with no visible movement, the gray is vanquished altogether, and everything above me goes pink.  Neon as far as the eye can see.

“Heath, look!”

Suddenly the lake ignites, the sky illuminating the water like fire on foil, blazes of pink dazzling the crests of the dark blue waves, mirroring the sky to the point that for one dizzying moment, I cannot tell them apart.  

“Heath!” I cried

“Yeah?”

“Are you seeing this?”

“Yes.”

Catching up to him, I wrap my arms around his chest and gently turn him toward the light.    

“This is the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen.”

But even as I say it, the color begins to recede; the pink melting to orange, the gray closing in.  I hold him for a moment.  We watch, and nothing seems to change.  But when I look away, and then back again, everything is different.

“Heath, have you ever heard the phrase ‘in the moment’?  Do you know what that means?”

“No.” He replies, slipping from my arms and returning the water.

Following, I do my best to explain: the past is gone, the future never arrives, so all we have is now.  How much he takes in, I can’t be sure.  But in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

He’s already there.

Grand Haven pier 

 
 

Creation

28 Dec

It has been over a year since I’ve posted.   In an effort to begin again I’ve been going over some unposted drafts, and wondering why I held them so close.  Here’s an emotional postcard from February 2010.  Hopefully there’ll be more soon.

It’s a gray day here in the city and my mind is in a whirl.

My bathtub is draining slowly and my emotions are close to the surface.  It has something to do with creation.

My soul is open and grasping but highly selective.  Whoever or whatever is minding the gate knows me very well and is only allowing through those works which pierce my soul with their love, sadness, beauty and pain. 

It began with Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, the memoir of an English writer and naturalist who, inspired by John Cheever’s The Swimmer, one of my favorite short stories, decided to swim his way across his native land, striking a blow in the process for the right of all to access the simple joy of their native seas, lakes, rivers, ponds, moats and fens.  I’m a sucker for old hippies, and while I never met Roger, who recently passed, anybody who spent a good chunk of the seventies living in a van while rebuilding a Suffolk farmhouse, shared the house with whatever animals could find their way in, and frequently swam in his own moat, is close enough for me.  It is the story of a man with a great love for the natural world and the simple but valuable joys it provides.  There is an added poignance, for just as I stumbled across this mentor to my imagination, he passed, leaving me to find my own way.

From there, fighting the blues and craving the couch, I settled in for a re-watching of Slings and Arrows, which just grows richer on the second viewing.  The show itself is a sweet melange of Shakespeare and the lives of the people who perform him.  The second season plays the youthful passion of Romeo and Juliet and its cast against the struggle for love and validation amongst the aging cast of Macbeth.  In the episode where Jerry Appleby, the balding sad sack understudy to Macbeth, goes on at the last minute and succeeds, gloriously, I sat on the couch, feeding my daughter, and wept like a baby. 

 Since then I can’t get enough of the show, and today, having had my renewed sense of sexual vigor foiled by Hallie’s stubborn refusal to take her morning nap (she knew something was afoot), and having too small an amount of time to squeeze in another episode, I dug through my music looking for something that could sustain this odd, bittersweet openness.  Rodney Crowell’s songs about his own turbulent upbringing fed the need. 

And then there’s the wonderful dream I had last night where I introduced my family to my first love, who I haven’t seen in years, and it seemed to bring a peace to the world, and to further extend my family and the love I feel for them. 

In many ways it has been a horrific few months.  My mother and brother were in a car accident, a week later my mother’s sister had a stroke while standing over her stove and caught fire, burning without ever being able to call for help.  And then they found a spot on my mothers lung, two years after her double mastectomy.  Thankfully, we got the news yesterday that she is cancer free. 

I’ve never understood art.  After years of struggling to be an actor I just don’t know what it is.  And I know I need to write.  But what about?  Inspiration floods my body but doesn’t know where to go.

But  the landlady is supposed to come over this afternoon and snake out the bathtub drain.  Hopefully she’ll work her magic on the hidden blockage deep within the elderly plumbing of our little home.  The drain will clear, the water will flow, and, with thanks, and a little less water around my ankles, I will soldier on.

 

 

Listening to the Rain

20 May

We sat on the back steps and watched the lightning play across the sky.  Tim was with us for a time, but then he went inside, leaving Heath and I alone, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder.

Heath has always  feared storms, demanding that blinds be closed at the lightning’s first flash, and burying himself beneath pillows when the thunder begins to roll.  But tonight I had a hunch.

“Heath, do you want to come watch the storm with us? ”

“No!” came the reply, muffled beneath the sofa cushions.

I let it go, stepping out into the darkness, only to return a few minutes later.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come outside?  It’s perfectly safe.  The storm is still miles away and we’ll come inside if it gets too close.”

“Really?” he asked doubtfully, peeking from beneath his shelter.

“Oh, yeah” his Uncle Tim replied. “I’m gonna come inside before I get rained on.”

And suddenly, surprisingly, he was at my side, a boy-sized bundle of curiousity and trust.  He stayed close as we walked out onto the back deck.

As a child, I would snuggle down as storms blew in off Lake Michigan and the freshwater wind whipped the sheer cotton curtains over my little double bed.  The thunder would crack, impossibly loud, and my heart would jump as I clenched my eyes shut; relaxing again only as I listened to the waves roaring in the distance, imagining them creeping across the sand, and up to our very door. 

A tornado once dropped a car into my grandparents’ front yard, it’s panicked driver bolting through their living room and into their basement, passing on the way my grandfather, calmly watching his beloved Detroit Tigers.  

And I remember the Fourth of July when lightning mingled with the fireworks.  Later that night the sirens sounded and we made our way to the basement with our pillows, blankets and portable radio, waiting sleepily until the storms had passed.  Mom was up early the next morning to visit dad in the hospital.  He was coming home in a few days.

We watched the dark clouds move in from the southwest.  I had told Heath that that if he counted the time between the lightning and thunder, he’d know how far off the storm was.  He loved this, and clung to the knowledge fervently, insisting that I begin to count out loud whenever the lightning crackled, and then nodding sagely when he heard the thunder.

“The center of the storm is four miles away.” he’d say.

“That’s right,” I said. And then we’d wait to start again.

My mom didn’t find my dad that morning.  She walked into an empty room.  He had died during the night.  While we were huddled in the basement, listening to the radio, and waiting for the world to calm, he had pulled aside his covers, gently stood up, and made his way to the window.  

“The center of the storm is nine miles away!

“Your right. It’s moving away from us now.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, the numbers are getting bigger, that means the storm is getting further away.”

I see him so clearly sometimes.

“Is there going to be any more thunder?”

“Just rumbles.  Nothing to worry about.”

Standing by that window, seeing his reflection in the darkness, and then looking beyond it. 

“You were so brave, Heath.”

“Yeah.”

Watching the storm, missing his family, and listening to the rain.

 

 

Following Hallie

12 May


Hallie’s walking now, and as I follow her through her days, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on in her head. 

For though her development is obvious, it is also, due to her Down Syndrome, both skewed, and mysterious.

You see, I’m not a book reader when it comes to my kids.  Some part of my soul quietly dug in its heels early on, and I’ve been resisting the experts ever since.   The downside of this is that I spend a lot of time learning things the hardest possible way.  The upside is that my instincts are my own.

So, of course, I could study up and nail down the developmental mileposts Hallie is likely to hit, and as far as her physical development goes, we’ve pretty much done that.  But the growth of her inner world  leads down a more tenuous path, and rather than burying my head in someone else’s map and fretting over every missed turn, I prefer to let my daughter lead.

Her ways are not direct.

After building herself up early on to a solid 15 word vocabulary, she more recently seemed to reach a dead end.  Undaunted, she did what any sensible explorer would do: she turned around and headed back the way she came.  And so we watched much of her early knowledge dissipate over the past year until we were back to “Da-da “, “Ma-ma”, “Up” and “Done.”  She even stopped saying Heath, for the longest time her favorite word.

But lately she seems to have found a new path, one that has taught her to walk, to sing, and to discover the word “Yeah.”  At this moment in time, this one syllable is her true medium.  Although her intonation is  limited, “Yeah” functions as more than just a sound she can repeat.  She uses it to answer questions.  She uses it for emphasis.  She uses it appropriately.  She uses it.  And for the first time, it feels like language.

I enjoy being lost, which is a gift.  For this is how we travel.  Up in the morning, diaper change and breakfast.  And then Hallie begins her journey.  I follow as she ambles along, her lurching gate growing in ease and strength with each passing day.  Despite her continued negotiations with gravity, she moves forward with joy and determination, smiling upon her world and brooking no obstruction.  She turns back only to make sure I’m still with her, and then, purpose renewed, she heads deeper into the beguiling labyrinth through which she is my only guide.

Hallie Easter 2011

 
 

The New Normal

23 Dec

It’s been an odd week. 

Stumbling into Monday morning, I attempted to prop myself up with what turned out to be the highly volatile combination of yerba mate and Grooveshark.  As a result, I spent much of the next two days ecstatic over the recent recordings of Glen Campbell. 

Heath, who, for those of you playing along at home, has now been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (begging the question, does one family really need to be this special?  Can we not spread it around a bit?), has been charming the pants off the various and sundry psychologists, counselors, and therapists who’ve been mentally poking and prodding him over the last several weeks.  Which is saying something for a school-hating six-year-old famous for both the volume and frequency of his meltdowns, and who, when asked by his teacher to write down his homework, recently told her to “stir it with her nose.” 

But with his diagnosis has come an unexpected outpouring of support, especially from his school.  And as with Hallie’s birth, I am reminded that we are not alone, and that any walls between myself and the larger community are largely self-built. 

And speaking of Hallie, she took her first steps!  Two wobbly lunging steps from her therapist’s arms to mine, grinning from ear to ear the whole time.  A year and a half after most children walk, and a good six months after those with Down syndrome, she is, as always, happily doing things in her own time, and redefining “normal” for us all.  I believe she see’s this as her job. 

As for Amy, we don’t see much of each other these days.  Any time we have is filtered through the needs of these two raucous beings who have hijacked our lives.  But she is good at Christmas, and preparations are afoot.  Hopefully, sometime soon, we’ll find some time alone.  That would be the best present of all.

So deck the hall’s, roast some chestnuts, jingle your bells, and hark those herald angels.  

And if you get a chance, check out the most recent Glen Campbell album.  It is awesome!

 

 

Gravity

16 Apr

“A black hole is, quite simply, gravity gone mad!”

So Heath frequently intones in his stately British accent.  Our tow-headed purveyor of galactic doom, obsessed with all manner of star death, has memorized a BBC video,  and this phrase has become something of a mantra for him, and, secretly, for me as well. 

For you see, I am now forty seven years old, and it has been eight years since that glorious time when I both ran a marathon and appeared onstage in a bathing suit, feeling, as a result, young and lithe.  Since that time I’ve learned a few things about gravity myself, and they are not very pretty. 

Without my shirt I’m beginning to resemble those burly old guys who trot their bellies into the icy waters off Coney Island every New Years Day to frolic about like over-fed otters.  When it comes to my midsection, gravity has, indeed, gone mad. 

And while this cruelest of forces is slowly dragging my pendulous bits earthward, it also continues to keep Hallie’s diapered behind planted firmly on the ground.  Approaching the age of two, her standing is slowly improving, but walking is still but a dream.   Of course, this bothers her not a bit.  She knows little of gravity and cares even less.  In an unwitting reenactment of Newton’s watershed moment, a dustbuster recently fell on her head.  Far from bringing enlightenment, this merely riled her and, after a brief cry and a little soothing, she continued on her way, scooting across the floor in search of objects to scatter, raging at the universe in a language all her own. 

Amy, of course, is affected by gravity not all, being a creature of light, air, and occasionally fire.  The sun to our planets, she warms us when we are cold and lights our way when we are lost.  I see it most with Heath, who struggles with an outsize temper, disowns us frequently, and yet yearns to be near her constantly.  She never forgets this, even under the most trying circumstances, and I, with a temper of my own,  learn by her example daily.

I often wonder how I’d handle fame and fortune.  So many men crumble under the weight of what seems, at my great distance from either, an amazing gift.  I know my weaknesses, and I’m sure I’d stumble a bit, but I doubt I’d fall.  Because somehow Amy, Heath, Hallie and I have managed to create a universe that spins at just the right speed to keep the stars glittering, the black holes at bay, and my feet on the ground.  

So let the testing begin.  I am more than ready.

 

 

Beautiful

4 Feb

When I wrote this a year and a half ago it seemed a little too personal to publish.  Now I can’t remember what I was afraid of.

My daughter is beautiful.  Don’t get me wrong, she has her squishy-faced moments.  But when I’m holding her to my chest and she pulls back to look up at me, her little chipmunk head slowly drifting back and forth as her pale blue eyes linger on mine, I would happily hold her forever.

When we learned Hallie had Down Syndrome my secret fear was that she would be ugly.  It seemed a shallow feeling, so I didn’t talk about it.  But it was there.  I remembered those sad old couples from my childhood who waited a little too long to have children and were rewarded with a son or daughter who seemed large, clumsy, and yes, ugly.

With our son Heath we had hit the jackpot.  Fair haired, blue-eyed and whip smart.  He got the best of both of us and from the moment he entered the world his beauty was apparent.  But as crazy as I am about him, I do not remember him possessing his sister’s haunting, open gaze. 

It’s easy to be a beautiful baby, and god knows that some combination of glasses, braces and acne lie down the road for both my children.  But it doesn’t really matter, now.  They’re my kids, and they’ve taught me how to see. 

I have always been short-tempered with those who want me to brace for the worst.  And yet, In the first days of Hallie’s life, I did it to myself.  The hurdles seemed endless and I braced for them all.  But three months later they are falling away.  There will be tough times, I know that.  But I’ve begun to relax, to roll instead of brace, to accept my daughter for exactly who she is with all her strengths and limitations.  And it’s so much easier than I ever expected.

Because she’s beautiful.

 

 

The Ascent

29 Jan

It’s bitter cold here in New York.  Seventeen degrees  and the wind howling down out of the north to shatter against the city’s land mass,  sending shards of atmosphere screaming along the East River and up into Queens where they relentlessly sliced into Heath and I as we made our way to school this morning.

P.S. 122, and it’s eastern approach along Ditmars Avenue,  most certainly rank with Everest and K2 as some the most treacherous terrain on earth.  Seductively flat and populous during warmer weather, amateurs are frequently lulled into a false sense of security on this traverse.  But when the weather turns, it can become deadly.  Heath and I passed several parents who had given up entirely, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk staring blankly into the distance as a thin layer of ice formed over their face and their children tried to prod them into life.  Poor bastards, there was nothing I could do.  To help them would have been to endanger my own mission, and that was unthinkable, the prospect of return far more daunting than the agony ahead.  For if Amy were to spend another day with Heath at home, her head would surely explode.  And after a week of stomach flu in our house, that’s one mess I just couldn’t face.

It’s the flu that kept Heath home these past two days.  Briefly ill, he rapidly returned to peak form, and though he is a smart, funny and completely adorable child, he is also, quite frequently, whiny, demanding and incredibly high maintenance.  As Amy and Hallie were recovering from the flu, and I was fighting it off, the last thing anyone wanted was to print a coloring page of every celestial body in the known Universe, one at a time, at an interval of roughly one every thirty-five seconds, from dawn until dusk, which is Heath’s current idea of heaven.  Nor did we want to read Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” from cover to cover.  And we certainly did not want to spend the day either arguing or explaining about literally everything.  We wanted to rest.  We wanted Heath to go to school.

So we began our preparations before dawn.  Neither one of us spoke much, lost in our own thoughts, knowing what we were up against.  Shortly after the sun had cleared the horizon we kissed Amy and Hallie for luck and began our ascent.  Being purists, we used neither ropes nor oxygen.  However we did hold hands, especially when crossing streets.  We found a rhythm that worked for us and, with slow but steady progress,  we found ourselves, shortly after 8:00 am,  just below the summit.  We stood there quietly, as men will, savouring our achievement.  After a moment I simply handed Heath his lunch box, gave him a kiss and wished him a fun day.  And then, sensing it was the right thing to do, I let him travel the rest of the way on his own, up the steps and into the school.

My flush cheeked boy, starting another day.

September 11, 2009

11 Sep

It’s a rainy day here in New York City, and my neighbors are walking gently, as they always do on this day.

Eight years ago on a clear, blue sky morning I walked up Second Avenue toward Twenty Third Street.  At 19th street a loud crash made me turn around, thinking I’d heard a car accident.  Nothing was there.  As I approached 20th Street sirens sounded and cars began to pour out of the Police Academy.  At the 23rd Street post office I overheard a man saying that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.  I asked him to repeat this and he did, pointing to the smoke, now visible through the high windows .  By the time I got to work the first building had fallen, and before long the second had come down as well.  I left to look for my wife.

Heading west across Manhattan, the views down the Avenues abruptly vanished into a wall of floating debris.  The first survivor passed me, a man about my age, his thinning blond hair, eyelashes and the shoulders of his blue suit covered in dust.  Others soon followed, shaken and bleary in their dirty clothes.  “I ran down eighty flights,”  one said.  A woman who spoke little English asked me what was going on and I did my best to explain.

I found Amy, we made our way to a friend’s apartment, and from her 12th Street roof we watched as long lines of people made their way out of the cloud that now engulfed the tip of Manhattan.  A few hours later, when the L train returned to service, we made our way home.

To me September 11 will always be New York City’s day.  Most of the world watched it, while we, to wildly varying degrees, lived it.  And while, in the days following, the country seemed to slowly lose it’s mind in some misbegotten quest for retribution, my people were kind.  We dealt with each other gently and helped where we could.  For a short time we opened ourselves to the fragility of life, and it brought out the best in us.  Every year when this day rolls around I do my best to remember that.  The city often helps.

On the first anniversary Amy and I got up very early and walked to work, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge before making our way uptown.  Somewhere on the hushed morning streets of the Lower East Side we passed a young man quietly going about his business.  He just so happened to be dressed as the Statue of Liberty.  He was also painted blue from head to toe.

The following year I went for a drink in the East Village.  It was a sunny afternoon and to get into the bar I had to step over the ugliest bulldog I had ever seen.  He was warming himself in the doorway and, oblivious to my presence, was not inclined to move.  His name was Buckshot.  The neighborhood police had found him tied to a fence, shot and left for dead.  Outraged, they had nursed him back to health before entrusting him to the care of the woman sitting next to me.  As we talked, Buckshot swaggered his way back into the bar, leaving a generous trail of saliva in his wake.  I could see the scars that peppered his hide as he loudly snuffled and nudged his way beneath my stool, damn near tipping me over in the process.  In his mind he owned that bar.  After everything he’d been through, no one was arguing.

And this morning we took Heath to his first full day of  Kindergarten.  This little person whose existence I could not even imagine eight years ago is already starting school.  His equally unimaginable sister has built herself up to a solid three word vocabulary, the most recent addition being, of course, “Heath.”  They know little of that day eight years ago, and yet, for me, they embody its spirit.  Maddening, mercurial, and totally unpredictable, they are my daily, hour by hour, minute by minute reminder that I am always at my best when I slow down, open my eyes, and approach the world gently, helping out whenever I can.  A good lesson easily forgotten.

Luckily, the kids keep me honest.