It was the afternoon after the shooting.
“I’m a new father, Dad. Maybe you can tell me. What am I supposed to do with this?”
My younger son has a daughter. Nine months.
“That could have been my town’s parade. My family. We could have been there.”
He had telephoned, he said, to check in after the holiday shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, a town some 40 miles from his home. He wanted to see how I was doing, and to wonder aloud how he was doing. Just to talk.
“We had planned to go to the fireworks that night here,” he said, speaking of his town’s Fourth of July evening. “But we just couldn’t. We stayed home.”
I was silent. Lost. Unsure. You want to be helpful. But I had no real answer.
“Well,” I said, pausing. “You can’t hide away in your house forever. Then they win.”
My son talked about his growing up, about going to fairs and festivals as a kid with his buddies, alone, without a care. Without fear.
“Is my daughter going to grow up with this. Is this her normal?”
My heart sank.
I thought about the phone call for a long time. Father’s are supposed to have answers. We are supposed to offer advice and counsel and help. That afternoon I had nothing to give.
The next morning I was up early, standing behind the house under a cobalt sky, that rich hue that comes before sunlight. A south wind lifted leaves above the branches. The birds chattered. It’s a short but magical time, a space between being and becoming. Peace. Comfort. All of it interconnected. I recalled a quote from the Buddha I had read recently: “From the arising of this, comes the arising of that.” In this one exquisite moment, everything was right, everything mutually joined, the world was leaning into the next day, a new beginning. Somehow, no matter how off-kilter it might seem, the world steps forward.
That afternoon, my son called again.
“What’re you doing Saturday?” he asked. “Let’s hang out together for a bit. Maybe go hit some golf balls at the range. We did that last week and it was so fun. You can see your granddaughter, of course.”
It sounded like the best idea.
“I thought a little about what you asked me the other day,” I said. “About what a dad is supposed to do.”
My son was silent, waiting for some important nugget of fatherly wisdom.
“You can take care of yourself,” I said. “That’s what you do. Mentally, emotionally, physically. Being there for her is everything. Make sure you are there—strong and steady through everything.”
We have been turned upside down by the violence in this world, been pummeled and strangled by it all. Still, like the brief time that early morning in my backyard, every day we stand in a single moment, all matter and energy is intertwined, and the world is, if only in a blink, perfectly balanced. That’s what we should hold onto. Embrace that force because you can’t control the world, but you can shape yourself.
“Be her rock,” I said. “Be the healthy joy.”
We agreed to talk again about our weekend plans and we said goodbye with our usual “I love you.” That evening, I scrolled through my Twitter feed, reading updates on the tragedy in Highland Park, questioning why I was subjecting myself to more awful news. Then, a post of another kind. A photo of Ringo Star. It was his birthday. The post asked, “What’s your favorite Beatles song?” and someone had commented with only the lyrics from John Lennon’s “Across the Universe.”
Sounds of laughter shades of life are ringing
Through my open ears inciting and inviting me
The words came like the cobalt sky on that early morning, a brief balanced moment when all is good, a chance to hang onto hope.
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So true. What can one say as a parent? Why am I reading books on Italian arcitecture for our Fall trip when the carnage in the Ukraine continues day after day? But one says what you said to your son. " Be the best person you can be. Give your all to your child in your care. Love life. When we do this, when we love life we defy violence.
Oh, boy, this was a tough one to read! But so glad to read of your thoughtful reflection on life not only in the present moments of your early morning, but also in your wisdom as told to a next generation, the future.