Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
-Excerpt from "Do not go gentle into that good night," by Dylan Thomas
My reflection stares back at me while I'm looking into the darkness. A streak of blue light passes by. Then another. And another. Speed increases and our plane lifts from the runway. A grid of blue marker lights reveals itself-shrinking against our growing altitude. Below cars and roads become smaller. Expanding blackness rushes in, engulfing the ground in the velvet of night.
There's a moment in nighttime flights where street lights become soft edged pools of light. The edges of sidewalks are hit with this light, making them look like stitches of thread in fabric. Neighborhoods become electric patches on fabric covering the dark landscape.
The plane is pushing harder. Bernoulli and his principles lift us higher. Moving upward and onward, the glowing neighborhood lights grow smaller. A deep, blue purple expanding horizon spreads out. The last traces of the last day's light is pressed into the present by the star covered night.
I can't count how many times I've taken in this view. The expanding earth, my reflection in the window. Ten-thousand feet, twenty-thousand feet, altitude incremented by speeds measured in hundreds of miles per hour, propels us forward. The magic of flight is not lost on me. Normally this is an awesome moment. The kid in me who loved airplanes, would be fully engaged and completely satisfied. Tonight, that moment that would normally be filled with joy is "dulled."
The writer in my head wants to say "melancholy." The problem with melancholy is that while it sounds right, the feeling doesn't match my computer's dictionary defined description of "a deep, pensive, and long lasting sadness." That's not quite it. No, it's definitely a dulled happiness, not a happiness displaced by melancholy.
It was Sunday, May 8th. I had spent a great weekend with both my daughters and my 2 grandson's. My older daughter, Miriam, had graduated the preceding Friday morning (magna cum laude no less - not that I'm bragging mind you). Her son, Oliver, was dedicated in a church service that same Sunday morning. He stole the show. My younger daughter, Madison, was there for the festivities, with her shock of fuchsia hair and wickedly awesome new tattoos. Her punk rock-a-billy attitude took the kitchen by storm making french toast with fresh orange zest that made the kitchen smell so wonderful that it would have given Escoffier pause. Madison's son, Lucas, my first grandchild, amazed us all with his quick, bright eyed intelligence. This gathering should have been enough for anyone. But no, there was something more.
The magic of the weekend came for me late on Saturday afternoon. Miriam lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Our families had come there for the weekend's events. For some, Nashville is the home of country music, the Ryman Auditorium and the honky-tonks on Broadway. But if you are a graphic artist, it is the home of Hatch Show Prints. Founded in 1895, this small print shop, created the show posters for every major artist who ever walked the stage of the Grand Ol' Opry. Every time I'm in Nashville, I make a pilgrimage to see living history. The fumes of the ink, the walls covered in posters for everyone from Hank Williams to unknown punk bands touring far away lands. But that wasn't the magic.
It was getting late in the afternoon. Hatch closes at 5 PM. I was getting ready to go and I asked my daughters if they'd like to ride with me. Both of their children were occupied, so they said they'd ride along. For the first time in several years, I had both of my daughters with me. No husbands, no children, no other family members. Just me and my girls.
As part of the population of fragmented families in America, I, like many other fathers have had their key interactions with their children on weekends. The sum total of one on one interaction is compressed into a few short hours. When my girls would come to visit, we tried to cram as much of this interaction time into as little space as possible. Thrift shops, funky stores and the obligatory visit to Goodwill to see what bargains could be found became part of our sense of normalcy. It was a place that we had carved out for ourselves. We would reconnect and build on these moments so that it would sustain our connectedness until we saw each other again. But over the past few years, advice I'd given my daughters occurred. "Life happened."
I tired to prepare my daughters for this inevitability in life. But somewhere along the way, I'd forgotten to listen to my own advice. Life happened. My little girls became women, wives and mothers. Their lives happened.
There are parts of me that misses being with my daughters. Laughing, talking and being caught in the simple act of being together. I once had a shrink who explained that mourning is the longing for the way that things have once been, but recognizing that they will never be the same again. The laugh of someone who has departed. A home that has burned to the ground. Or, in my case, two young girls browsing racks of clothes and talking about the next destination on a Saturday afternoon.
On Broadway, in Nashville on a beautiful spring afternoon, I was granted an "Our Town" moment. But instead of Wilder's perverseness of taking the protagonists back to cruelly relive a moment while forcing them to be fully cognizant of the ephemeral passing of the moment. Making the lack of the appreciation of the first passing of the moment amplified to tragic proportions. That wasn't the case. No, for me, it was past meets present. My daughters and I laughed as we once did. We took in the world, but this time I had the presence of mind to keep my eyes open. The pure pleasure of that exact place and time and the joy of being in their company was ever present.
I knew this moment in time would be short. All great moments are. Aware of this, I took on the practice of actors, and did my best to be "in the moment." If you truly focus, you can stretch microseconds out to cover years, or the lonely hours when you need them most.
So, looking out over the fabric of the night as my plane hurdled forward, I wasn't nearly as happy to be flying over the countryside as I normally would have been. Instead, my joy of flight had been replaced by the memory of the day before.
This would be the perfect moment to wallow in self-pity. Time lost, never to return. Mourning. No, these feelings were replaced by an odd sense of happiness. Being in the moment allowed me to see my daughters without the sentimentality that normally clouds the reality of vision. I didn't see my little girls as being lost to the past. I saw them as the remarkable women they are. They have become awesome people who have rich lives of their own. They have husbands and children, lives and homes. Homes in which that they are making wonderful places to create life memories for my grandsons.
As a parent, isn't that what it's really about? You're there to help them walk. To convince them that there are no monsters in the dark. At some point they walk and they face the darkness alone, and they find their own place in the world. It's at that moment that you realize that you are no longer necessary for their survival. You can "go gentle into that good night," and they will be fine. This is a tragic moment for some parents.
No, I took great pleasure in the fact that these remarkable young women chose to spend a few hours with their dad. On a street with country western tunes wafting in the air, I wove a little more fabric into my life that will sustain me as a grow older.
Looking down from seat 11A onto a landscape covered in glowing clusters of lights, communities revealed themselves. Our lives are a lot like that. A vast landscape covered in sparkling moments that glow in our memory – joining our lives into a beautiful network that connects us all.