Jesus H. why do these things happen? Especially begging the question, yes, sir, why do these things happen in places like a card store for the love of Pete? No, no, no it shouldn't be that way. Nope. Not a goddamn mass-produced sentiment like the ones I saw there while browsing and waiting on her. Her. The manifestation, the avatar if I may, of my memory of the past and guarded optimism about the future.
My daughter, the Wee Lass, Her Royal Cuteness was in search of a card for her mom. I was the Captain of the Guard, awaiting her Majesty's attention there in the stacks of the Hallmark store in Kansas City. The store is big, a stone's throw from the corporate HQ, and there were more cards than anyone could possibly use. I was idly scanning the stacks when it hit me.
An inner tsunami of nostalgia and grief for something gone. "Something is missing," I heard myself saying, "something has been lost," and I had trouble swallowing the lump in my throat. My heart flopped over in my chest. The screens behind my eyes rolled old, scratchy films of a childhood missing and youth faded away. Flickers, shadows, the laughter of my brother, the faces of my mom and dad when they were younger, too. My grandmother in the background with hand on hip and cigarette poised for another drag before that large laugh that made me feel like I had roots.
Laughter like that is all the more powerful because of its grounding in the understanding that life can be rough and brutal. The only way to survive is to learn to laugh, to break it down and let the water flow around the stones of our soul.
I blinked to clear my eyes but it did no good. I saw myself in the backyard chasing a Frisbee, flung like a skeet from the backhand of my Big Bro. The afternoon sun was gold tinged with silver splashed across the backdrop of that sweet cerulean sky we seemed to have more often when were young. Dinnertime was not far way. I had hunger in my belly. The kind of hunger that blooms from the blissfully ignorant discharge of energy we always thought was boundless, energy that is the province of children. This is a hunger I rarely feel, anymore. Adult hunger tends toward the satisfaction of the base desire to get calories in the belly and avoid starvation. It is a hunger that too often feeds Pragmatism instead of Delight.
The store lights seemed too bright there. Shaking my head seemed not to work. The imps of the perverse were not yet sated, their claws feather-light and sunk in deep. The sadness of loss threatened to carry me away, and those movies of what I used to have kept running. The images stained, faded and scratched with a soundtrack distorted by the reels slipping off their sprockets. I breathed deep, trying to gain some composure while feeling thoroughly ridiculous in all that air-conditioned comfort.
"Snap out of it, man. Thoughtful cards are no reason to bemoan the loss of the youth, the future you once thought was guaranteed," a scolding voice in my head. I am the man that I am, 'myself plus my circumstances' to borrow a phrase from Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset.
I am myself...plus my circumstances...this is inescapable. I am myself plus my losses plus my future, even though that is something I cannot know until it becomes the Now. To know this is to understand what the sequoias know, should they deign to speak to us (or we deign to listen).
I dropped my head in weariness. My daughter was a few aisles away, gleefully reading the cards and clutching what proved to be her final selection. Finally, my vision was clearing. I rubbed my eyes hurriedly to erase the bittersweet evidence of jadedness before she could see it to ask. She approached me on the bounce with a smile on her face. She held out the card for my inspection.
The sun was setting over the unsettled ocean of my mind. I was on the beach holding my breath, waiting and hoping for that split second flash of recovering my loss. Hope began to fade until my daughter's enthusiasm and glee spilled over into the atmosphere, and there it was: the cloud lifted while my heart opened up to blossom into a darkening sky. I saw the green flash of youth, of promise, brought forth from the depths by the laughter of my legacy.