From time to time, Amber and I pen letters to each other as a way to memorialize the truth. Today seemed like a good day.
The college students have returned to Fayetteville, descended on the town like a million ants on a spent apple core. I love their annual infiltration; they come carrying the heat of their passions along with them, whether tucked away in the trunk compartments of their uber-hip motor scooters, or filed inside of retro-Trapper Keepers in their super-cool backpacks, or logically categorized on the hard drives of Macs. We both love the energy and sense of wonder they bring, their unquenchable passion for the issue du jour, the ironic inquisitive statements that post-cede each and every turn of declarative phrase. Right?
Yes, they are potential miracles, these young ones.
Yesterday, I spotted two freshman in the coffee shop, each trying the other on for size. They were trying on their big-boy and big-girl concepts, too, concepts like justice, and mercy, and international relations. The boy had lost neither his ruddy cheeks nor his chain-link teeth, and his eyes were locked on a girlish thought-monger across the table. She was coming into her own grand epiphanies, the most recent of which involved the crisis in the Middle East. Working out the pros and cons of “to missile or not to missile” (that truly is the question), she declared “there’s just no good solution.” For effect, she tossed her hair over her shoulder in that smart-is-sexy sort of way worn by this new crop of young ‘uns.
He swirled the dregs of his empty cup, searching for the answer. Under the table, her naked feet were propped on his naked feed. Their Chacos were stacked one on top of the other, on top of the other, on top of the other–his, then hers, then his other, then her other–in a sort of flip-flop foreshadowing. I could see the furrowing brow of his worthy intellect distracted by her feminine wiles.
“I know, right?” he muttered, blank-faced. It was all he could offer.
The poor boy.
For all he cared, his companion could have been talking about dancing circus poodles as easily as sectarian violence. I don’t suppose he heard a word she said. Likely, he was dreaming more of canoodling with her on the couch while Wolf Blitzer provided some background ambiance. (Ah, Blitzer–that master of breaking it down in the Situation Room.)
I suppose I was that boy once, too.
Do you remember those days? Back then, we weren’t discussing the efficacy of missile strikes or “national security.” (Those were the pre-911 days, after all.) Instead, we walked in the October sleet holding hands as you ticked off your favorite Ben Harper songs, or recounted your Memphis in May experience, or counted the ways in which you loved Romeo and Juliet. I nodded along as if I was hanging on your every word, but here’s what I’ve never admitted: you could have just as easily been talking about dancing circus poodles as easily as Romeo and Juliet so long as we were walking together.
That’s how it was in those days.
Things change. We’ve moved from discussing the rhythms of Ben Harper and Dave Matthews, and have settled into the rhythms of life. The business of raising four boys has set in, and there’s barely a lick of time for anything outside of familial obligation. Fifteen years into this thing, and we’ve found ourselves marching to the 4/4 cadence of responsibility.
Wake, coffee, breakfast, keys.
School, work, lunch, karate.
Supper, children, tea, sleep.
Wake, coffee, breakfast, keys.
The rhythm can be monotonous, especially for a couple of free spirits who’ve always tried to take the road less traveled. True to form, though, you squeeze the very last minute out of every night, try to wring out one last discovery, one last song, one last episode of Fringe. “I don’t want to go to sleep,” you say, “I’m not ready for the rhythm to start over.”
I get it.
Solid rhythms, though, are part of maturity. They give us structure, a driving cadence, and the truth is, we’ve got a pretty good beat going here. I suppose I’m glad we started this goofy band together.
One day, we’ll be back in those coffee shops, children grown and obligations relaxed. You’ll likely be pondering Dickinson, or Oliver, or by that time the Poet of the People, John Blase. Our rhythms will have changed to a more a free-flowing swing, the obligations of raising children and career having faded into positions of lesser importance. I’ll pretend to listen to you, but the truth is, you can talk about dancing circus poodles for all I care, so long as you hold my hand across the table, or stack our Chacos in a leaning tower under the table.
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