This evening I walked again for an hour in the local park, something I've done almost every day for the past month. Trying to lose some extra weight, I keep pushing myself to exercise by walking in the cool of the evening. Every now and then I could hear the dull roar of a the little league ball game winding down in the distance. Though there are lots of paths to take, I always seem to take the same old familiar one and always head in the same direction. I am such a creature of habit.
I felt as if I was wading instead of walking through the humidity which only added to my bad mood. The back of my neck was soaked with sweat and the salt kept stinging my eyes. I have to admit that I did get a little weepy tonight. I kept thinking about my youngest child graduating from high school tomorrow. Where did the time go? I can still see him being pulled and stretched from his caesarian birth, falling asleep in his windup toddler swing, and strutting around with his Wal-Mart sack playing the “ga-ga man” (his name for the garbage man). Today at 18 he is covered in tattoos, enjoys smoking weed, and has no clue what he wants to do for a living. Deep down inside I know that he is a good person just trying to find his own way. Far from perfect, he struggles with being honest and prefers to stretch the truth to suit his own agenda. Tonight, however, I shed tears for my son because I often feel that I’ve lost contact with him since the divorce. Have I failed to be the dad he has needed over the past four years? I’m not sure… but I do mourn for the time lost with him.
He told me a story just recently of a trip to the lake where he went swimming with his best friends on their Senior Skip Day. His story reminded me of Thomas Eakins’ "The Swimming Hole", a painting which celebrates the shameless joy of youth. Eakins’ work glows with the reflected light of a summer sun bouncing off naked skin, mounded rocks, and broken water. His use of a triangular composition created a solid foundation in what could have been a very chaotic scene. I picture my son as the youth at the top of the pyramid, trying to figure what to do next, completely comfortable in his own skin. I envy the confident strength I see in him, something that I never possessed in my youth but always wanted to own. I was the exact opposite of this boy when I was his age – always self-conscious, worried about what others thought of me, terrified that my secret would be discovered and I would be disowned by my conservatively Christian family. But I’ve noticed that my son lives simply in the moment, selfishly enjoying the here and now without a thought of another’s opinion, bathing in the warmth of his own self-worth. He has no issues with his sexuality and calmly shares his exploits with me – which, I admit, has shocked me at times. I cannot even begin to imagine the response I would have received from my own conservative dad had I shared my sex life with him!
Even though I feel that I have failed him over the past few years, I do look at my son with a sense of pride. I would like to believe that my parenting has made him into the person he is today and the man he will become. I hope I have taught him what he needs to know. If positive values, a respect for others, and a strong work ethic have somehow been imported, then I will have done my job. I want to look back on his childhood and youth as fondly as I look upon the beauty of Eakins' painting. I want to hear his laughter and the splashing of his spirit and the joy of living life fearlessly.
As I was ending my walk and wiping away my tears, I heard the distant boom of fireworks. It just so happened that as I turned in the direction of the sounds I saw through a small clearing in the trees the multi-colored bursts of light. I had forgotten that the local college was graduating its senior class. Wandering through the narrow clearing to get a better look, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous that I might trip on something in the darkness. But the clearing was freshly mowed and easy to cross and I soon found myself in a better position to watch the show.
Taking a detour from my familiar path was exactly what I needed – what we all need from time to time – a reminder that something amazing could be waiting around the corner. I often get so caught up in the melancholy of regret that I forget that life is a constant, ever moving force. Life never lingers over spilled milk. I stood in that clearing for a good five minutes, captured by the sight and sound of a celebration which I was sharing with others so far away.
To my surprise, I heard myself whisper the same prayer I’ve repeated many times over the years when something beautiful fascinates me. “Thank you, God, for eyes to see such things…”
Though I no longer believe in the God of the Bible, I still find myself talking to him throughout the course of the day. I am such a creature of habit. But that’s for another blog. Tonight I was glad to have had a chance to see a black sky come to life in that small, narrow clearing along my familiar path.