Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What It Means I Can't Explain

If you are a parent, and unless you have some magical talent with words (a gift, alas, to which I can not lay claim), you can never explain to anyone what this love, this truest thing, could possibly mean. There is simply nothing to which it can be meaningfully compared. If you're not a parent, you can never understand, and you're probably sick of hearing that. You think you've been in love, you think you get it, that you know that depth, but watch your child grow, and you can look back and realize that it was an empty word, love, comparatively benign. This is the difference between a gentle summer zephyr, and a Perfect Storm.

When Son was very small, Wife and I would take turns and lie with him in his bed at night, after story time, after a drink of water, and the second trip to the bathroom, and wait for him to fall asleep. Without exception, everyone to whom we mentioned this habit - parents, friends, coworkers - would tell us what a terrible idea this was.

"You'll regret it when he's older, and you want some time to yourself," they said. This was the party line, and to a certain extent we bought it. But I would lie next to him while he slept, listen to him breathe, see his eyebrows knit with concern over some dream-hurt, smell his bath-clean hair, feel the radiant heat of his little muscly body. At first we did it for him. So he wouldn't be lonely. But now we do it for ourselves.

How could I not? How could I refuse myself this amazing time and place and feeling? It's all true, of course, as clich├ęs often are. "They Grow Up So Fast", and "Time Flies", and "Before You Know It". Every word. And this unconditional, unreasoning, unreasonable love may not be returned forever.

I can't explain it, but there is nothing - nothing - more important. My one remaining terror in life, lives at the wellspring of this powerful love: that he will be taken from me somehow.

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