Hiatus

Time passed. One day became two. Weeks became months. What began as a temporary absence evolved into a void.

No writing. No journaling. No attempt at an opening paragraph. On occasion, I hastily blurted a random thought or two into a voice memo on my phone. But the recorded words stayed in coded form. Bits and bytes waiting to be transcribed and brought to life as words on a page.

For the better part of a year, I have worked on at least one piece of writing at a time. An idea or story. An outline for a book. Always some small part of my brain processing and playing with an idea, while racing through the craziness of my day.

But the last few months have been a bit of a hiatus.

The intensity of my work life and family life converged for a while, with quite a bit of travel mixed in. San Francisco for a conference. Klamath Falls, Oregon for a brief family Thanksgiving. Preparing for my son’s long-awaited homecoming for winter break back in Chicago. Christmas spent covering the hospital and ICU. Ringing in the New Year while working in an ICU in Elkhart, Indiana.

And somewhere between the West Coast and the rural Midwest, I got lost.

That little part of my brain stopped sorting new thoughts and ideas. Instead, I fed it a steady diet of Netflix, cryptocurrency and progressive politics. Comfort food for my cerebral cortex. And as the writer inside me took a leave of absence, I found other parts of myself taking a time-out as well. My running shoes sat untouched most days. My swim bag remained buried in the corner of the mudroom, as I went AWOL from my water polo team. Whatever exercise I managed was mindless and without purpose. As my writing and journaling stopped, so did my desire to physically push and challenge myself.

But I did not close my eyes.

I watched my daughter continue to face the challenges of being a sixteen-year-old junior in high school, navigating the ever-shifting landscape of friends, school and life. Juggling final exams and ACT tests, hours of dance and Poms, injuries, babysitting and a boyfriend. Like her dancing, She stumbles at times. But like she does when dancing, she pops right back up and continues moving forward, becoming more adept and able every time.

I watched my son face the challenges of being nineteen, while working on the universal yet uniquely personal battle between autonomy and dependence. Between freedom and restriction. More often than not, that process now takes place out of my sight, as he currently lives two thousand miles away. I am still coping with this. But each time our orbits align (and hopefully not collide), I see a little bit more of the man he is becoming.

I watched my wife challenge herself to tap into her mathematics and education degrees, putting herself out there to help neighbors, family and friends with the mysteries of high school geometry and pre-calculus. I saw this amazing cycle of confidence build. Not only in her students as they became better prepared for their quizzes and tests, but also in herself as she applied a unique approach to help each student fill in his or her specific knowledge gaps.

I watched. More passive than active. Letting events play out and unfold before me, often while stretched out on the family room couch. My sweatshirt and a comforter worked overtime, protecting me from both the falling temperatures outside and having to actively engage in the world around me.

But it is time. Time to leave passivity behind, along with the comforter and the couch.

Despite the cold, I went for a run outside the other day. A few years ago, running in sub-freezing temps was a no-brainer. Just put on the right clothes and go! Now it’s a bit of chore. It took more thought and effort to push through the inertia of inactivity.

It started with shivering. Time felt slow. Movement felt forced. But ten minutes into the run, my body heat began to build, and with it, the familiar warmth comforted me. The sound of air moving in and out of my mouth layered on the rhythmic sound of my shoes disturbing loose gravel and stone under my feet, brought me back to an old familiar space.

For the next forty minutes my joints ached. My calves and hamstrings burned. I sweat. It was snowing, and the falling flakes were cool on my flushed face as I ran through their vertical descent. And sometime during that relatively routine run that I had done countless times in the past, a small dormant part of my brain came back to life.

It’s time again to write.

Sixteen Redux

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There you are, in the big chair, half curled and snuggled up against me. A tangled clump of hair covers part of your face.  You’re somewhere between wake and sleep listening to Goodnight Moon and my made up stories of butterflies and rainbow fish. You are warmth to my perpetual chill.

There you are, lying sideways asleep in the bed. Crumpled sheets draped over you rhythmically rise and fall with each breath. You are eight or nine years old? The stillness of this tableau a striking contrast to your boundless energy and movement during the day.  I stand, a sentry in front of your door making a silent promise to protect you always from the darkness. All the while fighting back my own fears. Fears of the randomness of the fates that even a father’s love sometimes cannot overcome.

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Focus

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I pull into the driveway, trying to leave that last of my work day behind. As I enter the house, I am greeted by the all too familiar semi-chaotic scene. Lola comes jumping into the hallway, happy to greet, while my kids stay somewhat immobile in their current positions. Madison often on the couch, computer on as well as the TV. A token book maybe by his side. A phone there as well with the screen still lit up from recent use. Maya will be in the kitchen, simultaneously eating while sprawled out on the floor, music from Spotify playing overhead, trying to do math homework in between answering the multitude of texts that keep streaming in. My frustration at the lack of focus in these two irritates me to no end as they have not remembered to put their morning’s breakfast away and the dishwasher from last night is still not emptied. I can’t look anymore, and just head upstairs to change…

Madison. I watch you pace along the pool deck with your new smooth shaved head. You settle in behind the starting block waiting your turn. The goggles move from forehead down to your eyes. Your gaze, straight ahead in front of you. Up the starting block you go. Waiting. For the whistle. “Swimmer’s take your mark”. Hands curl on the platform, legs spaced apart, while newly formed muscles from a season’s worth of practice tense…waiting… The Starter’s “gun” goes off, and you spring to life. How things have changed from the soft little racing starts you used to do. There is purpose behind this one. You slice through the water to remerge. Middle lane. Fast lane. Maybe a third of a body length behind those next to you. Butterfly. Arms synchronized out in front, pulling forward. You hit the wall, turn and power off. Purposeful. Focused. Intense. Now headed back. I can see you moving, driving forward. Your shoulders? When did you get such broad shoulders? You pull slightly ahead with each stroke now. Into the second turn and back out again. You look smooth. Coordinated. It’s the third length of the four that it really hits me. Focused. Driven. You own this. This race, your season. You put the work, the time, effort. Morning practices, dry-land sessions. Not for me. For you. Time slows. Just a little bit. This moment is so beautiful to me. Watching you…

Final length. Middle lane. You’re ahead and holding. I remember my arms, heavy, burning, wanting to stop. Finding what would push me, to push past the ache and burn. My team? My pride? You’re finishing strong, still smooth, closing in on the timing pad. Final strokes…you don’t stop. No coasting or easing up. You hammer your arms into the timing pad and the clock stops. The mixed joy and frustration of a personal best, yet short of your personal goal. I know how you feel. I know how I would feel. But I wish you knew how proud I am. The race is over but it still lingers. It’s still there in the pool and in my mind. I fight back the tears.

Maya. You’re in front of me. On the stage. Poised and still, awaiting the music to start. The song begins and so do you. Movements and poses I have seen hundreds of times around the house, are now being put together rhythmically to your music. Your eyes and face, staring ahead, with such intensity and focus. Every movement with a purpose. Some slow and rolling, others sharp and punctuated. The music builds and so does your pace. You’re flying across the stage, jumping, hanging there with air beneath your feet. Your breathing, controlled, by visible muscles under your outfit. My eyes are drawn to yours, but all I see is a burning intensity that is all your own. And as you do your aerial, time seems to slow a bit and everything else fades away except for you on the stage. This moment is so beautiful to me. Watching you do what you love to do.

The song is not over. Your timing is spot on. Arms and legs and body moving in perfect time to the rhythm and words. Your routine ends and it’s over. But your performance still lingers. On the stage and in my mind.  I wish you knew how proud I am. I fight back the tears.

The weekend is over.  Sunday night and homework  is still not done. Scattered actions and the unfocused thoughts of two teenagers dominate the house as the reality of a school day tomorrow makes its way to their brain. And as I try and deal with my own frustrations over this, I do find some solace in replaying their recent success in my head. Their intensity, their focus. They both have it. They have it in spades. It is just at times extremely selective when and where they choose to use it. But as my kids find their way in this world, I look forward to watching them use their focus and intensity in what they love to do. I can’t wait to see how beautiful that will be.