Monday, April 29, 2013

I'm Not...

Tonight, after a busy day and a busy weekend, Tyler lay in bed clad in Batman pyjamas swinging his legs back and forth. "I'm not tired Daddy--I have so much energy I could jump from my bed all the way up to the moon!"

Jennifer and I had spent most of the weekend outside with Tyler, watching with giddy, childish excitement on Saturday as he attempted a tall wobbly ladder-obstacle-course-thingy over and over again until he could do it; scootering to church on Sunday, then running and playing soccer in the backyard, then jumping on the tiny trampoline that our lovely neighbors gave us, then playing with various Imaginary People, then convincing various Imaginary People that it was, indeed, time to eat dinner, then convincing various Imaginary People that it was, indeed, time to take a bath, then convincing various Imaginary People that it was, indeed, time to go to bed.

The thing about Imaginary People is that they are incredibly useful allies in the journey to Try and Get Children To Do What You Want Them To Do.

Our two favorite Imaginary people are Mr. McGooga and Lucy. Mr. McGoogal is a 70-year old man who walks around with a duck on his head. (The duck can never be removed, even when he goes to sleep or takes a bath.) Mr. McGoogal always does things in an opposite or highly strange manner: he wakes up at night and goes to bed when the sun rises; he brushes his teeth with mud; he walks around naked outside and then puts on all his clothes for bath time; he eats dessert first and dinner second; he picks his nose and his butt (often simultaneously); he inevitably goes the wrong way when attempting to go anywhere.

Our other favorite Imaginary People Person is Lucy--who is almost two years old and cries often, always wants her own way, and consistently doesn't know what to do (other than knowing that she doesn;t want to do what her Mommy and Daddy think she should do).

Tyler often needs to correct what Mr. McGoogal does, or explain to Lucy why doing something she wants to do isn't necessarily the right thing to do at the moment. When tired, Lucy and Mr. McGoogal begin to sound an awful lot like one another--but when awake, they are so good at what they do (imaginarily) that they often make very real changes in Tyler's decisions.


Because at other times, even Imaginary People (no matter if they have ducks on their heads) can't even convince a four-year old that he should go to sleep.

Other times like, say, tonight.

While jumping to the moon did sound like a lot of fun, doing so would have caused an inevitable extra half-hour (including blast-off and then landing, plus the blast-off and landing back on Earth), and Tyler had already woken up early this morning. Jennifer and he had drawn endless pictures of beautiful things, I had done the paper route, and even thought the grumps made a few appearances, Jen and I gave one another that wordless, knowing parental look which said quite loudly: Early bedtime tonight?



Except, as Tyler lay in bed swishing his legs back and forth, attempting to start an uncanny amount of new option for what could be done instead of sleeping, even the star-studded prowess of Mr. McGoogal and Lucy could not be of aid.

And tonight those immortal, bold, four-year-old-mastered words came crashing all around me like a layer of bricks covered with sawdust that had been previously coated in a thick layer of mud which may, possibly, have had traces of dog poop mixed in. On the edge of exhaustion, and bereft of any real hope from Imaginary People.

"I'm not tired!"

I'm not tired!

I'm not tired!

So I did what any patient, kind, warm, loving, gentle, endlessly hopeful father would do. I pretended to be asleep.

"Daddy, did you hear me? I said, I'm not tired."

More pretending to be asleep. And I threw in a big yawn with my eyes closed tight because, hey, I was that sleepy.

Tyler stopped talking to me, then began swishing his legs louder and faster and louder and faster and--

Singing. We've got singing. Loud singing, with more leg swishing, back and forth and back and forth, and then the singing and the leg swishing began to work in unison, forming an even more imposing wall of Mud/Poop-Coated-Bricks that were crashing, crashing, crashing all around me and the singing and swishing and is he veer going to fall asleep because he REALLY needs it because he is SO OVERTIRED and what's with even the IMAGINARY PEOPLE not even working!!!???

And as I continued to pretend to be asleep, a decrescendo occurred. A glorious, melodious decrescendo. And then, a small bit of quiet, and then two beautiful words: "I'm not..."

And that caesura--that beautiful poetic silence--cause me to wake wide up from my pretend sleep and look full at Tyler's face. There my boy lay, peacefully sleeping like the overtired, exhausted child that he was.

And it dawned on me in that moment that Imaginary People are amazing. They're beautiful and helpful and downright giddy fun. But reality is also pretty great, too. Because a lot of us adults aren't much different than four-year olds--swishing our legs back and forth, trying to convince ourselves that we're not tired,  not sad, not in need of help, not in need of love, or a kind word, or hope, or just a little bit of truth.

It's hard to admit stuff. It's scary and we're afraid that we'll miss out on good things if we admit the truth. If we're sad, we wonder if it means we made the wrong choice. If we endure failure and suffering, we fear others will tell us we walked into it ourselves. If we travel through confusion, we worry others will direct our steps rather than simply love us through the unclear trail.

So we say things. We say, I'm not sad or I'm not tired or I'm not battling some pretty severe heartache or I'm not depressed or I'm not scared.

But the thing is, we are. The fact that we're members of the human family essentially guarantees that we're all of these things sometimes (hopefully not all simultaneously, though, because that would even freak out Mr. McGoogal).

But once in a while, we find a space where we can let a caesura slip into our exteriors. We find that place or those people with whom we can pause just long enough to allow the silence to create a space authenticity and love have a chance to breathe. Sometimes, we find ourselves saying just two words: I'm not...

And we pause, because we know we are. And knowing we are gives others the chance to hold our hands, fix their eyes, and respond with love. Maybe then we stop all our nervous leg swishing and fall into a deep sleep. And when we wake, the world looks new again.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Like half-broken branches
Our arms hang limp.
We see the sun but cannot reach out
And pull it towards us--
Cannot hold its light with our limbs.

But a thousand leaves open.
Palmed pupils dilate with
The determination that comes from
Feeling light before we see it,
Finding strength before we feel it.

And suddenly the soul that ferries
Water in our roots knows:
We will branch out once more.
New buds will emerge to hold
That same sun, now brighter than before.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Duck, Duck, Soar

A few days ago, on the first house on the morning paper route, I saw a limping duck on the front lawn. Another duck walked beside it, as if to protect it from any would-be villains. I stopped immediately, holding the Daily Mirror for house number 153 in my hands, and watched the limping duck.

One of his legs was bent a bit, though as he sensed my presence it used that bent leg as best he could to flee me. I began to wonder what kind of number I could call about a duck with a bum leg. Who could help? And would it be good if I tried to pick the duck up and bring him somewhere--some kind of medical facility or some local guy who happens to be a Healer of Birds or a retired vet who might be looking for things to do because, hey, retirement is maybe a little more boring than it's cracked up to be.

My mind tracked back ten years, when my oldest brother Chris and I found a sparrow with a broken wing on somebody's lawn one day when we were out for a run. We watched the bird and finally managed to scoop it up, then run back home. We called about a hundred people from the yellow pages, before one of the vets gave us a number for somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who fixed birds.

In his backyard. Seriously.

So we got in the car and drove the hour to the Backyard Bird-Fixer Guy (who happened to be blind). We gave the guy the bird with the broken wing, and he held the bird in his hands, told us he was feeling for the heartbeat, and then said with a deep sadness in his voice that it wasn't good news.

That sparrow died, and I remember feeling crushed. Why? It was, after all, just a bird. Just a sparrow. But the time we spent with that sparrow, the numbers we called, the drive we took--all of it was imbued with such hope, and when we finally met the blind Backyard Bird-Fixer, my storytelling mind was already seeing a beautiful narrative arc to that adventure. Not so.

So as I watched the duck with the bum leg limp away from me, I wanted this time to be different. Sure, the world is a big place and there gender injustice, domestic abuse, children that need families, slavery, trafficking, violence, misogyny, and so many other tragedies to work against. But a few days ago, on my morning paper route, this was this duck.

This duck with a bum leg limping away from me. And for some crazy reason, this duck was what I could see and this duck was what I wanted to fix--some tiny living thing I wanted to see healed. Maybe it was selfish, maybe it was because I needed this duck to be whole again.

Maybe it was because--surely--my heart considered that if I could manage to locate a Blind Backyard Bird-Fixer yet again (this time in England) the narrative arc of this story a decade later would be different. Hope would win.

And then Surprise showed up. Because as I watched the limping duck, and the healthy duck, a car door slammed close by us, and both ducks spread their wings and lifted off the ground and reached up into the sky and sailed towards the River Ouse, a half mile away.

The duck with the bum leg had two wings that were strong and beautiful and bold and capable. And this duck didn't need to be fixed. He was going to make it as is: imperfect, broken, himself.

I suspect there are a lot of us limping around somebody's lawn, and maybe people take a look at us and think, I wonder if there's some guy somewhere who fixes people like that? And if we limp around long enough to listen to the voices that say we're too broken to get up where the air is a little thinner, the view a little better, maybe we start to believe them.

But once in a while something comes along and surprises us. It wakes us up. It gets our hearts beating just fast enough that we remember something deeply important: we can still soar. So maybe we reach out our two beautiful, bold wings, and we feel the wind lift us higher and then we head for thee rushing water.

Where, after all, we can float and a bum leg can't even be seen.

Today, may be remember what the poet Dennis Brutus claimed--that though tenderness may be frustrated, it "does not wither." Tenderness survives, and the soul aches to send us on an adventure beyond somebody's lawn. The soul aches for surprise.