I should know this by now. It shouldn’t take reminding. But it always takes reminding.
It’s like smoker who can’t quite quit; the drinker who can’t quite find that control; the overeater who still struggles to make the right choices; the gambler who has to make just one more play.
We are prone to mistakes; to selfishness; to relapse.
We get wrapped up in our own self-importance; or at least, we think we’re important for the wrong reasons.
And then, time and time again, we are reminded.
Some of us, no doubt, are here to make great inventions, to lead mighty corporations, to take on the job of leading nations and tribes. But for most of us, our jobs are much more simple. We’re here to be here for the ones whom we love, for those who love us or depends on us, for those who need our words for comfort, or our labor for shelter and food.
It’s really that simple. The sum of our work will amount to very little, our individual contributions as immeasurable on a universal scale as a worker bee gathering pollen, producing honey, feeding the nest.
Our work is important, yes. Essential to survival, yes. As important as the honey bee’s to the hive’s. No more, no less. There only can be so many queens.
* * *
Incidents like yesterday’s – Beckett’s sudden onset of immobility – serve as a reminder.
Incident’s like today’s – my grandfather (the last of my parent’s living parents) – hammer the stake in the ground and say, “take notice.”
Grandpa Phil, my mom’s father, was placed in hospice today.
There are mom’s tears, the slideshow memories, the heavy knowledge that despite some serious efforts, I never did collect all those stories I needed to from him.
There is regret and anger and awe. There is sadness and smiles. There’s laughter. So much friggen’ laughter. Grandpa Phil made me laugh, a lot. And vice versa.
For some reason, I can’t shake the memory of the time he took me and two of my cousins down to Orlando. I was such a little 10-year-old punk-ass. I pushed his buttons the whole time to make my cousins laugh. I pushed just to the point he would pretend to backhand me. He’d yell, “God damn it, Eeeeddddiiiiieee.”
And then after a while, I’d just start mocking him, and because he was Grandpa Phil, he’d laugh at me mocking him. I see him in the Orlando sun, in his jean shorts (jean shorts before they were cool, when they were cool, long after they were cool) and his v-neck white T-shirt. Salem cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Hair parted and pushed back. Grandpa Phil still has good hair.
There’s so many images like that. He was an institution in my life. Dragging me around to his many jobs before I was in kindergarten. Me, riding on his floor waxing machine. Me, cruising after a day of work with him to the American Legion. Schmidt’s in a stubby bottle for grandpa, a Shirley Temple for me. And a quarter for the jukebox. You get three songs for a quarter; and the first song I play is always “The Unicorn Song” by the Irish Rovers.
All the old men at the bar, all the grizzled vets know I love “The Unicorn Song” and grandpa knows it, too. And I know now with age that most of them, though they never would’ve admitted it at the time, love that I love that song. It is something simple and pure, something predictable in a world of 17 percent interest rates, and gas shortages and the Iran hostage crisis.
A boy, 4-years-old, so in love with something as simple as a song. I see myself, I did it so many times, standing there, singing the words to the jukebox to myself, and smiling: “There was green alligators and long-necked geese/Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees /Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born/The loveliest of all was the unicorn.”
It’s maybe the most innocent I ever was, that I ever will be. Back to my stool. Sip my Shirley Temple. Grandpa sips his beer, takes a drag off his smoke. “Whatd’ya say there, Smitty?” he asks me.
I’m happy here. So, so happy.
* * *
I see those moments now in my own children.
Sometimes you want to take the stresses of your day and make these kids something they’re not. We place our adult world expectations on these tiny souls, trying to make sense of big, complicated problems. Big parent problems and stresses they can’t understand.
And then they do something; or something happens to you, where you step back and go, “Jesus Christ, they’re just a kid.”
They need compassion and explanation and help understanding the world around them. Not leadership by brute force.
So I’m striving for honesty. I’m striving to not cut short my answers. To not explain with a, “because I said so,” but to communicate, as best I can, the series of events that lead to why I’m sad, or why I’m angry.
I give that same time to you, to countless readers and friends at bars and coffee houses. And I can’t do the same for my own kids? It’s inexcusable.
* * *
Today didn’t start much better than yesterday. Beck came into our bedroom with the pain and stiffness having progressed further up his legs overnight.
He complained they hurt worse, in more places. I rubbed his legs down with menthol, gave him Tylenol, and got ready for work. I needed work today.
This was a surprise, since, before bed last night, he had been pretty mobile.
That’s when Dad called, and told me about grandpa. He’s not been doing particularly well for a while, I guess. His communication has dwindled, lately he’s not wanted to eat.
I called Mom. Told her I loved her.
In the time this took, Beckett was already showing increased mobility. Yes, within 30 minutes. He was clapping his feet together. Before I left for work at 8:30 a.m., he half-ran through the kitchen.
By lunch, he was walking.
A blessing no doubt. A great sense of relief, no doubt.
At 2:30 Heidi called to tell me she took him to the doctor. Now he has an ear infection.
A minor problem, really.
* * *
I came home this evening to all kinds of stories from school, from town. The kids in Beckett’s karate class made him a get-well-soon poster. Others wrote letters to us this morning to make sure Beck was okay.
It only added to the sense of guilt I feel about placing unnecessary worry among all of you.
But it also speaks volumes to the power of community, and prayer and love in our life. I’m so, so humbled.
I think I prayed today more than I ever have in my life. I actually sought out a church this morning; a temple, if only to signify the sincerity of my thoughts and messages. The door was locked. So I gave thanks, silently, on the sidewalk.
I’ve no idea what tomorrow holds. I’m supposed to be in New Jersey a week from tomorrow. I’d like to hold Grandpa Phil’s hand one more time. Say “God damn it, Eeedddiiieee,” one last time and harass him about those awful Westerns he made me watch.
But most importantly, I’d tell him that he’s played a key role in any success I’ve had. He taught me how to work before I was even in kindergarten. He instilled in me the thought that one could feed a family through work, determination and an idea. But he also scoffed at many of society’s formalities. I kind of like that.
Phil didn’t really know how to be different in front of different groups of people. He was just as prone to pick his ear wax with a key in front of me, as he was a customer at his hardware store, or with the president of the bank he had a contract to clean.
That last personality trait of his has probably been the biggest life tool of all. One I’ve unknowingly followed, and begun to follow more as I’ve gotten older.
We’re just worker bees; and everybody knows it. So stop trying to pretend; and get on with the doing the things you need to do to make sure those around you are sheltered, and fed and cared for.
Drone out the rest. Drone out the unnecessary noise.