Embracing the In-Betweens

Overused expressions from popular culture are to be avoided in general, often repeated as they are to the point of becoming trite.  But I can think of no more appropriate phrase for this post than that of John Lennon in his song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”:  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  An unfortunate side effect of the holidays (which begins for me the moment Halloween decorations hit store shelves) is the occurrence of lulls in the in-betweens.  The three month period for which the Halloween season and New Year’s Day serve as bookends may be viewed as an imaginary mountain range.  The peaks in this range are the calendar holidays themselves, and they are connected by a lengthy trail which requires time and patience in the ascent of each peak but then plunges precipitously down the other side, dipping into the mundane.  An irony of this festive time of year is that what is considered mundane–the ordinary chores, the routine tasks, the minutiae of the workday–begins to feel even more so.  Jobs become drudgerous with much clock-watching.  Occupations that allow for little time off during the holidays can even become sources of bitterness.  We who appreciate this part of the year juggle conflicting feelings of eagerness for cherished traditions with the fear that they will end too quickly.

 

So here is a challenge to myself and to anyone else who struggles with finding a balance between these special days and all the tedium-laced, unremarkable ones that surround them.  Let go.  Halloween, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve will take care of themselves.  The embedded psychological weight of each of these all but insists on their prominence on the calendar.  Keep traditions, but understand that they will endure without excess of effort and anxiety.  The preparation of food or the purchase of gifts may be necessary, but fretting over making the day memorable is not.  Instead, direct that energy into embracing the in-betweens.

 

Nature is a worthwhile place to start.  Fall colors peaked weeks ago, and a majority of hardwoods have lost their leaves, but throughout Middle Tennessee there are little pockets of color–solitary maples clinging stubbornly to their bright reds and yellows, which appear all the more dazzling amid the encroaching browns and grays of the surrounding trees.  To a willing mind, even the browns and grays have their charms.  A line of bare branches, when positioned opposite the sun, has a way of softening the waning rays of dusk into a mellow red-orange glow, which in turn is complemented by a paled and deepening turquoise sky, quilted with magenta-pink cirrocumulus clouds.

 

Cold nights are here, yet there is an alternative to bemoaning the onset of early darkness.  When the premature sunset fools us into thinking the hour is late, shift focus to the comforts of home.  Home can be a loaded concept, but hopefully it is a positive one.  Perhaps it implies family, but it also can imply warmth and refuge.  In the abstract, home may imply a place inside ourselves, where we are able to retreat regardless of our physical environment.

 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the mountain peak at which we arrive this week, I suggest one last way to ease the anxiety of the mundane (and I do it with another potentially overused phrase):  count your blessings.  Loosen your grip on tomorrow’s ambitions and take stock of what you already have.  Everyone has something, and most of us have much.  Inevitably, the in-betweens will be sweetened, and an impulse toward generosity may just reveal itself.

Fatherhood: Impressions from Year One

Upon word of our impending addition to the family, many an experienced parent set about assuring me of the joys of fatherhood.  I was grateful for all the well-wishing and good-natured advice, but nothing could have prepared me for the way it actually would feel to welcome my son into the world.  Here was this little person that I knew I would always love, no matter what situations may arise.  I knew this immediately.

 

I also knew that my perspective had been forever shifted.  Within my orbit, there was now a true dependent–not in the sense that a family member may be listed as a dependent on a tax form, but in the literal sense.  Someone was trusting in me for their security, for mobility, for shelter, for nourishment.  In no way do I intend to downplay my wife’s role in providing these things alongside me–she is the consummate mother, as far as I can tell–but to communicate that this type of necessary provision was a new expectation for me.  On paper, to someone outside the situation, this advanced level of responsibility may be lacking in appeal, but a year of practice has taught me there is a deep satisfaction to be found in the act of providing so much for someone who is capable of so little, and the satisfaction is all the deeper when that someone is your own.

 

In the initial days of Arthur’s life, there was a barely perceptible quiver at the end of each long cry, a tremulous shudder of sound that would have been easy to miss had I not been in a state of hyper awareness, as I imagine new fathers often are.  His newborn lungs were giving it all the volume they could muster.  It is a mystery as to why this became a point of pride for me, but it did.  There was an identification with this desperate, infantile wail–a heart connection–that apparently was based in nothing more than the fact that he was mine.

 

Several of his actions would create mysterious heart connections that year:  the spirited shouts of made-up words when he discovered his voice (many of which sounded to me like various forms of “daddy”); the ecstatic smiles he would give from his crib first thing in the morning; the upright angle of his back after he learned to sit on his own; the way his brow would furrow at the serious business of eating a cookie; even the downturned corners of his mouth, sunken deep into his chubby cheeks, as a pout was about to materialize into a full-blown tantrum (so traumatic to him, yet so endearing to me).

 

At this early stage, it is difficult to resist imagining what Arthur will look like or what he will find interesting when he is older, but I am careful not to let those musings overshadow what a miracle he is right now, at one year of age.  His face brightens when I come home, and sometimes he squeals.  To think that this little boy will soon be calling me Dad, and to think he may even want to be like me one day, fills me with a joy I can hardly contain.  And in case he happens to stumble across this post at a point in the unknowable future, I just want to say, “Arthur, you have made me proud just by being born, and I love you.”

A Message from the Portal

Of all the views afforded by beach and sea, the one that enchants me most is that of crashing waves.  Whether they be large, small, or barely existent, waves are always there, and that is where I fix my eyes most often.  At the time of this posting, we are there.

 

Hours are being spent in a flimsy chair, under a flimsy umbrella, staring at the incessant inflow and outflow of briny water.  Sometimes the waves crash with a deep, hollow-sounding thud, which hints at their power; sometimes they lap against the sand with a liquid whisper, showing their gentility.  But always, they are coming in and going out—for eternity, as far as I can tell.

 

The consistency of waves gives us a sense of the passage of time and a feeling that our lives are but a hiccup on a continuum.  If this makes us feel insignificant, though, it is soon countered by a profound sense of wonder at nature’s timelessness and vastness.  We just as soon feel a part of it.  For the meditative, there is an attraction found in this dichotomy of insignificance and participation.  As regards meditation, it is worth saying that the off-season invites this very state of mind.  If soul-searching is on the agenda, few settings are as conducive as an abandoned beachfront, a few feet from the water, watching a red sun emerge from pink-orange clouds and then drop beneath the horizon.

 

Some time during my meditations on this border between land and water, I had the notion of crashing waves as portal.  The portal exists in the imagination.  It inhabits the quiet and reflective corners of the mind.  It blossoms upon the minutes and hours spent staring into that rollicking, roiling churn at the beach’s declination.  The crashing waves are a passageway between this world and another—not necessarily the afterlife, but a parallel world.  We can play in the waves, but we cannot cross over.  The other world can be known only in dreams, where the soul swims through coral caverns with wondrous and mysterious creatures in a bottomless, aqueous vacuum.

 

After lengthy spells at the water’s edge, watching and listening, it becomes possible to feel transported, like the soul has been sparked.  It is similar to the sensation one gets before certain paintings or in a balcony at the symphony, when a rare lucidity grants us heightened awareness of the finer points of art and nature.  It is as though, all of a sudden, communication has been achieved with another realm, with the unknown, with God.  This is an effect of the portal.