There are these moments. Moments of extreme elation and bliss, abject fear and terror, crystalline understanding. Moments of such intensity that our everyday somnolence is exposed as a kind of fraud, a delusion we perpetuate in order to keep at bay the dueling hounds of our fragility and immensity, our contingency and divinity.
A late dinnertime run to the store for a few items; the daughter had volunteered to cook. Dark as we turn onto our block, no streetlights to illumine the way. In the headlights, a man in the middle of the street, first starting to cross, then doubling back, then pausing too long in the middle as I approach and instinctively slow, him sloughing off late as I swing wide and recognize him—Michael.
Young dad, good man.
Strange for him to be so unyielding of the road. Another man stands on the sidewalk; they seem in contact.
Pulling near our house up the block, I ease to the curb and my daughter exclaims, “There’s a baby. Hey…where’s the adult?”
I glance up to see a small figure in the dark. I get out of the car, look up the block beyond him. No one.
Far down the block from where we had come, I hear shouting.
I see two shadowy figures in the distance, zigging, zagging.
The two men we had passed.
I yell down into the dark: “He’s here, guys!”
Approaching Henry, my impulse is to scoop him in my arms and run him down to his dad, but I think the better of it, and slowly reach my hand out.
“Hey Henry, come on with me, your daddy’s down there looking for you.”
Pauses, looks, considers, takes my hand.
Here comes Michael, running.
“Henry!” he half bellows. Mad for just the barest second.
“He’s just out exploring, Dad,” I offer with half a laugh, but it is already unnecessary.
I touch Michael’s shoulder as I say this, and I feel his heart beating wildly, the heat and fear pulsing from his body in waves. He is going tender and weak in the knees, all that adrenal terror suddenly with no outlet or goal.
“Henry, where were you going, what were you doing?” he says, his voice trailing off. They are rhetorical questions.
I am feeling in this moment such identification, such a memory flood, such commingling and communion with Michael, with every parent everywhere who has ever loved and lost or feared to lose, even for the briefest moment, the beloved, the terrible searing beloved of their deepest heart, their child, everyone’s child, all of our children.
Oh, I know that fear, Michael, I am with you, Michael, I remember that racing heart, that relief, that painful, engorged, almost unbearable window into all that matters, all that fills us almost unbeknownst, all that we love with such unbounded intensity, all that we would race through fire to save.
Good night, Henry. Good night, Michael.
Billie Holiday is never finer than in this lovely and rare footage:
Thanks to the photographers: Rotating banner photos top of page courtesy of Larry Rose, Redlands, CA, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Water drops on leaf photo courtesy of Doug McAbee, Wellford, South Carolina, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmac09/
Boy in plaza photo courtesy of Tom Godber, London, UK, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/masochismtango/