Friday, February 29, 2008

It was nine o'clock by the time we got home--only six o'clock by our body clocks, but the end of a long day of travel and a long week of...everything. The boys crawled into their PJs and climbed into bed. Thing 2, in his lower bunk, ecstatically embraced all of his stuffed animals and began arranging them around his bed, making sure each one had a blanket and a pillow. Thing 1, up above, just cried. Between tears, he said, "I loved it so much, and it's hard to say goodbye."

When I was ten, I was in a play at our local summer-stock theater, up in the Berkshires (Massachusetts). I had done class plays before, but never anything this serious, this professional. It was a wonderful and overwhelming experience, and when it was all over, after closing night and the final cast party, I lay in my bed and thought about everything I had just been through, and I cried myself to sleep. Because it was so hard to say goodbye.

I look back on myself, and I watch my son cry himself to sleep, and I envy that kind of passionate attachment--that commitment to a person or a place or a thing that you welcome and let in and experience so openly and completely that it hurts you to disengage from it. I envy that...because I don't find myself very capable of it anymore. There are too many walls, too many bad experiences, too much caution and judgment. All well earned, I'm sure, and all perfectly natural. It's hard to be that open through your entire life, and keep your membranes (real and figurative) that transparent and permeable. It would just wreck us. We learn to keep our guard up.

Well...some of us do. My friend Thor was one of the exceptions. Thor was memorialized by friends and family in Washington, DC, last weekend. I had hoped to be there, but I was already scheduled to work in Hawaii that week, and had built a family vacation around my required time there. The logistics became impossible. But I visited his memorial website, once again, and scrolled through some of the pictures uploaded there. Between that website and one on Facebook, there are hundreds of pictures of him--hundreds--with an enormous cast of characters. Always smiling, always exuberant. And there are hundreds of testimonials--hundreds--some short, some long--some from the east, some from the west, some from the north, the south, Kosovo, Afghanistan....

Thor held on tight, and people held on tight to him. And the letting go has been very difficult.

Some friends have sent me photos from the weekend. I see faces of old friends, some hidden behind gray hair, or no hair, or a few distinguished wrinkles. Everyone has sad smiles--middle-aged smiles. "Here we are, together," they say, "after all these years. But one of us is missing. And we know he's just the first."

Promises were made, I'm sure: we'll keep in touch; we won't let each other slip away. And maybe we won't, and maybe we will. A year can go by the way days went by when we first knew each other.

Maybe that's why my son can cry himself to sleep after a week in paradise, seeing and hearing and tasting and experiencing brand new and exciting things. Because a week, for him, is still Serious Time. A summer can be a whole, separate life.

Whereas, for me, summer comes, and I say, "it was hot last week, wasn't it?" And then it's fall.

I'm home now, and tired. The afternoon sun is streaming through the windows. The door bursts open and voices erupt from the garage. My boys are home from school.

Keep the door open. Batter my heart.

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