I heard my friend Duane was ill and I gave him a call. He told me the doctors removed a lesion from his hand that was diagnosed as malignant melanoma. He was thankful they got it all. He wanted to keep his hand and they let him. He would be back to work in a few days.
Two weeks later I read he had died. Things change fast.
That shock and emptiness approaches how it felt the morning of 9/11/2001. I was preparing my kids for school and the voice on the radio said “a plane flew into one of the Twin Towers”. I thought ‘what a dope.’
A plane. Not a 747. A plane. Saying “a plane” suggests a Cessna, a single engine, two seater flown by some hot dogger out of his depth. A foolish accident, not a jet filled with hundreds of gallons of fuel.
The magnitude of what happened kept growing. In the car we heard more fragmented details that compounded the horror but added little to our understanding. I escorted my son to his classroom where his teacher Mr. Molina had the TV tuned to the breaking news. There I saw the first video of the towers collapsing. I will never un-see those images.
I needed a change of scene and took the kids up the coast to Santa Barbara that weekend where we discovered a whimsical park with a labyrinthine playground reportedly designed by children with lots of hiding places, switchbacks, ladders, bridges… It was the perfect place to play ‘hide and seek’ and distract myself from the state of the world. The kids could hide from me, secure in the knowledge that my lurking pursuit was benign. I was hiding too.
When they were little, I used to push them on the swings. You can really work up a sweat keeping two insatiable kids going. I turned it into a game where I would tell them as I pushed them “Go away!” And on their return “I said ‘go away.’ You bother me.” The absurdity of this struck them as completely hilarious and of course, they would keep coming back for more. It was quite a work out and it felt good to laugh.
One day, a little kid I didn’t know asked me to push him on the swing too. I guessed he heard our infectious laughter and wanted to join in. I thought he wanted me to help him get started, so I pushed him a few times to get him going. But he put no effort into it himself. He just kept asking me to push him more.
I was happy to help but wanted to keep pushing my kids. I didn’t know this kid. Resisting the urge to lecture him on the virtues of self-reliance and the evils of Socialism I pushed him again and again. But I told him he needed to participate, that to keep going he needed to put effort into it too. I gave him one more good push and then returned to my kids and the game of pushing them away and their relentless return.
The kid never did try. His swing came to a rest and after a while of just sitting there, he went away. He frustrated me. I didn’t know him. I had no relationship with him. Because of that I couldn’t tell him “Go away, you bother me.” He might have taken it wrong.
I think now that I was wrong in my assessment of this strange little boy. He didn’t want to swing. I think he wanted someone to push him on the swing, like no one ever did.