She turns and smiles. Catches my eye. Smiles even wider.
And the insides fall apart. They fall apart slow enough that I can feel it; but organized and downstream.
First at the chest, and then out into the nerves in my arms and into my legs. Into my head and cheeks.
I smile, too.
Because this is love.
And in a world where I feel I know increasingly less about my proper path or my correct plan; this thing is certain.
I love her – my daughter – the goofball walking next to her – my son – and the woman who’s gone day in, day out, studying for an exam that can’t come soon enough, my wife.
After that, it gets a little blurry.
Maybe this is what they call a mid-life crisis; that point where you rear back and say, “Whoa, man. Where exactly is it that you’re going? And why are you going there?”
This is a bizarre place – approaching 40 – a place where the knowledge of four decades collides with the ambition of four decades (hopefully) left to go.
The questions only stop when I sleep; or when I catch that smile.
Questions I want to hide from. Questions I’ve buried in work. Questions I’ve buried in “busy.”
* * *
I wrote that first section a few weeks ago, right around Thanksgiving.
And then I held on to it.
I knew I was on the cusp of something larger; that this moment in time was an important piece to the mess swimming in my head.
It was a sense of unease; a sense that something was wrong. It left me moody and wanting; sometimes detatched. But mostly lost.
“Are you running into the feeling that ‘this is all there is?’” my father-in-law asked me recently during a visit from South Carolina.
“No. It’s not that,” I said.
And why should I feel that way? My life is a gift. I have many loving friends. I’ve built things that “made a difference.” My family is strong. I have a great career.
And then, of course, when I least expected it, it hit me. Two Mondays ago, to be specific, in a coffee shop.
The second the words came out of my mouth; I knew I’d found the source.
Time is running out.
* * *
Death is not imminent; but the lifespan of this phase is.
The things I once found important have been replaced by something much different.
My children are growing up.
And all the excess stuff in my life – the charity work, the side jobs, sitting on boards and pondering community problems – are getting in the way of the only thing I want to do with my time: be with my wife and kids.
It’s a finite resource – the days and weeks ticking away until my children branch off on their own. Teenagers with friends. Young adults with college. Adults with careers.
Every hour lost can never be reclaimed.
It’s that thing, that awareness that has me rattled. It’s my first real experience with this.
Childhood and early adulthood are filled with planning and dreaming for what will be.
But all of us – is this what starts the mid-life crisis? – must eventually prepare physically, mentally, for what will not be, or what cannot be anymore.
Eventually, these magical moments – the giddy 6-year-old’s excitement for Christmas, the getting dive-tackled in the morning by kids up early, the four of us snuggled up on a couch on a Friday night – they’re going to end.
These simple things have brought my overactive mind, my twitchy heart, peace in a way I’ve never experienced. So, forgive me if I lament their eventual passing.
It’s funny that just when I reach the culmination; just when I reach that point of identifying myself, undeniably, as a father first and foremost is so very close to the point that I fully appreciate that their childhood will come to an end.
How can one lose sight of such a simple truth?
Regardless, awareness is a gift.
And I know what I want. At least right now.
Beckett. Brody. Heidi. Me.
That time, that togetherness is more valuable than any material item one can possess this holiday season.
It is rare. It is fleeting.
And I know that I am blessed to have it.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. With love. – Ed