Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Ben!

A moving post by Litlove on Tales from the Reading Room... her son's concerns about running out of oil, global warming. She set up links to those who would like to respond. This post is a comment I left... and, on the occasion of my firstborn's 39th birthday, an appreciation for my two sons, who help me understand why we go on...
I phoned my oldest today to wish him happy birthday. Thirty-nine years ago on a bitter cold night, crossing Powelton Avenue to what was then, Presbyterian Hospital. Only a few blocks from our apartment… I can’t remember if we walked or drove, or what kind of car we had, but I remember crossing that street and the cold wind and how the next time I was fully aware of the weather, it was spring.

It was a long labor. His mother made a heroic effort to go Lamaze to the end. Nothing like being a coach over the course of an 18 hour labor (breath.. puff puff puff, breath puff puff puff) to change one’s whole perspective on: men, women, sex–how relatively small a role one plays as a male in the larger scheme of things.

And nothing so restores one’s place, the reassurance of being needed, as holding that newborn child in the crook of your arm for the first time.

I am father of two sons, ten years apart. I cannot imagine myself without the history of their presence, their growth–and, oh… it was not an easy passage in either case. If it had been a novel, that long, difficult labor was but foreshadowing of the next 17-18 years! And it didn’t get easier the second time.

But the firstborn is now head chef in a Center City restaurant, and the younger, like a second heartbeat, … taking courses at Temple, majoring, like his father, in religion–because no other liberal arts major is so liberal in the range of courses it accepts as counting toward the major. For him, it’s a late start. For me–it was my impulsive change of majors every semester through my junior year. That, and time out to serve my sentence as a conscience objector during the Vietnam war.

All as prelude. In the last few decades I’ve come to profoundly doubt our place in the world… a belief that the emergence of human consciousness and enterprise has been a tragic fluke. I ask myself, if I were young, would I choose to have a child? (As though, when we are young, we do these things by choice) And I am troubled. Troubled because I can’t offer a clear affirmative answer. To bring a child into the world, who will die. For what? Did I think of that when I held my son in the crock of my arms? And yet… I would not change what I have done.

Tonight, I was tired and thought of going to Mara’s for dinner. Did not want to expend the energy on making a meal for myself. But I can’t afford to eat out. And as I began to work, mincing garlic, slicing onions, making the dressing for my salad, heating the sauce (”gravy,” as they say here in South Philly.

… something changed. I was doing for myself. I was caring for my most basic needs, and I thought of hunter-gatherers, of the gleaners of the Neolithic age… this too, is nature, I thought. Our nature. To bring forth. To recreate. To pass on what we have done. To die.

And as always–almost reflexively, when I mop up the gravy with the Italian bread, dip the last crust into the olive oil at the bottom of the salad bowel, sip the last drop of wine from my glass… I hear myself say aloud…

oh… that was good!

Somehow, that says something to me about the question your son raised. Of how we go on. And why.

I’m not sure how… but it does.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. I too have a child. She's about to become a teenager in May and sometimes I have to fight the urge to keep her locked up in the house under 24 hour guard. Between the sexual-predaters, teenage boys, toxins in the water, global warming and super-bugs, it's a wonder she gets to leave the house. But she does. I let go and take a breath and encourage her to live her life. This is her life, in all it's fear and pain and wonder and joy. What the future brings, I have no idea. Will the earth die before she is old? Will she have children of her own? The future is a wide open glimmer just beyond the horizon and we can only catch a glimpse. All we have is now... today. I'm not burying my head in the sand, but I am teaching my child to embrace all the joy there is in life. Be aware, but don't hide from life. This is a gift. Embrace it.