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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sandbox. Cemetery. Thunderstorm. Dads.

A personal story, with a nod toward the cosmic....

Yesterday I finished building a sandbox. (If my little one were old enough for sarcasm, she'd probably say, Just in time for summer to disappear. Thanks, Dad!) Every time I get outside and build—my carpentry isn't good enough for inside work—I think I could pitch academia and go into construction. Forget that dissertation; hand me a circular saw! When I'm building, my constructs are all real things. The only core theories I need are "Measure twice, cut once" and "When in doubt, ask Dad."

Seriously. My dad knows stuff. I don't think I've ever built anything, that sandbox included, without checking with him. Even when I boast to him, "I'm gonna build...," I'm really saying, "Am I doing this right?"

So I laid the last timber, screwed it down. Time to pick up the tools, wrap up the cord, and hurry back in to hit the books. Always something to do.

But then it hit me: don't do anything. Just be, just for a moment. I don't do that often. Do you?

I sat on the corner of the sandbox. I had all outdoors to myself. I watched the clouds come over the fiercely waving trees. I looked around the browning garden (so many tomatoes left!), over the yard that stayed green all summer, my maples toughening up where four years ago was a beanfield, the lake all white-cappy in the distance.

Best view in the world. I sat on the corner of that sandbox, built for another of the reasons that I'm the happiest man in Lake County, and took it all in.

At the same time, a friend of mine was sitting alone in a cemetery. Well, alone is open to interpretation. My friend was the only living soul here, but he had come to spend time with his dad. He hadn't visited this spot, this town, this state since the funeral years ago.

Funerals are like weddings: you don't get to talk to anyone. When you're the bride or groom, your attention is everywhere and nowhere. You're either greeting and hugging and toasting and dancing, or you're so thunderstruck by what just happened and what's going to happen (not just tonight, but forever after) that you don't really notice anyone but that amazing person beside you.

Same thing happens when you're the center of attention at a funeral. You're in a box. Kinda tough to talk.

You also can't talk much when you're in charge of the funeral, as was my friend, years ago, by the flipside of primogeniture. You're playing the good host. You're handling details. You're on autopilot, patting shoulders and thanking well-wishers while making sure the show goes smoothly and the checks get written. Then you have to rush back to your job to catch up on a few days' work so unexpectedly missed, clean out the fridge that needed cleaning before you got that awful call...

...and a few days, or a few years later, you realize you never took time to grieve. Forget your cousins or that old girlfriend in town—you never took time to talk to yourself, or to the spirit of the man you buried.

That's why my friend was at the cemetery yesterday. Away from kids and grandkids, away from job and dear wife (who told him this trip was a good idea), he just sat. For a long time. Amid the stones. Under an autumn sky turning from blue to ragged gray.

What words he uttered, what thoughts he thought... his business.

But later, past midnight, he sat outside again and watched that thunderstorm coming on. Yeah, last night's storm, the one that interrupted my sleep not by its own power but through the unconscious flopping of a three year old who thinks the proper place to spend a thunderstorm is between Mom and Dad (not so unreasonable an opinion, is it?). My friend had no one to beat him 'round the pate: he had a camp cabin and the entire state park to himself. He hadn't been out in a storm for quite some time. He watched this thunderboomer advance from the southwest, with its constant barrage of lightning. He ducked inside when the rain and hail came gusting down.

And then, alone on a thin mattress and a foam pad from Pamida, he slept. Deeply. Peacefully. Better than he has slept in years.

Sandbox. Cemetery. Thunderstorm. Two men at peace.

I don't believe in cosmic connections. I don't feel the need. But I'm still happy to tell stories, and invite others to construct their own meanings, cosmic or otherwise.

And yes, I'll check with Dad, to make sure what I'm constructing will hold up.


  1. Cory,


    Signed, an old friend of yours :-)

  2. An excellent bit of story telling, Sir.


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