One Good Thing #7: I Am

As I sit here writing, I hear Ella, one floor below, sprinting from room to room, creating a “school,” populated with LEGOs, L.O.L Surprise Dolls, and army men. I hear Owen’s shouts as he guides the army men to “the library.” I can hear music, the playlists Spotify somehow uncovers from the algorithmic chaos of Ella’s musical tastes: Disney songs, Imagine Dragons, Machine Gun Kelly.

Right now, I hear Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” a song I played on repeat around this time eight years ago, when Ella was born. I can’t listen to this song without feeling the intensity of emotion from that time, the soaring happiness and the inevitable reply: the bone-deep sadness.

In his poem, “Glory,” Uncle Dean writes, “some sadness has no origin.”

I often repeat this line to myself, even as I try to discover the origin—some experience or image that might clarify why I feel sad. An upsetting conversation? A photo of my grandparents? Often, I have to admit: some sadness has no origin. More often, I discover an origin, of sorts: some irrational fear.

Obviously, in recent days, I’ve succumbed to fear more often than usual. I try not to dwell in this fear, though I’ve found it can grip me for minutes or hours.

Speaking of fear, Sharon Salzberg says in a recent podcast: I realized looking at my own fear that, unlike the pronouncement, I’m afraid of the unknown, I’m actually mostly afraid when I think I *do* know–and it’s going to be really bad.  It’s the stories I tell myself, that’s gonna happen, that’s gonna happen, that’s gonna happen–that’s when I *really* get going. And when I remind myself I *don’t* know, this space opens up, and I think, ‘Hey, I don’t know.’ Then I can relax.

As I sit here writing, Karen is drinking coffee two floors below. She is alone, browsing jewelry boxes online, enjoying a respite from the children’s near-constant need for attention. We’ve seen the recent Jonathan Frakes Asks You Things meme, which equates Frakes’ persistent odd questions to this new life at home with the kids. It’s spot-on.

We’re entering our seventh day of near-isolation. Throughout the past week, we’ve fielded an unrelenting stream of demands and proclamations from the children.

“I AM hungry!” “I want to watch something.” “When is lunch?” “What can I do?” “I want a cupcake!” “I AM HUNGRY, Daddy. So MUCH.” “Can I use your phone?” “If you feed me, I won’t pull down my pants.”

Karen is holding up admirably. Me? I give myself a solid C+.

So often, I feel my irritation cresting, and I see the children examining me, placing themselves in a holding pattern until they decipher my mood.

Is he angry? Is he sad? Is he happy?

I am all of these things, at once. Unfortunately, I often suppress my happiness, and instead, amplify my irritation, clouding the moment for the children, for Karen. Only later, often after dinner when I’ve had a glass or two of wine, do I see the harm of this way of being. George Saunders expresses this way succinctly in his essay, “Buddha Boy

“You know the feeling at the end of the day, when the anxiety of that-which-I-must-do falls away and, for maybe the first time that day, you see, with some clarity, the people you love and the ways you have, during that day, slightly ignored them, turned away from them to get back to what you were doing, blurted out some mildly hurtful thing, projected, instead of the deep love you really feel, a surge of defensiveness or self-protection or suspicion? That moment when you think, Oh God, what have I done with this day? And what am I doing with my life? And how must I change to avoid catastrophic end-of-life regrets?”

Yesterday, I sat with my son on the couch, holding him tight while we watched the terrible movie, The Wrath of the Titans. He must’ve looked at me once or twice per minute, searching my eyes, trying to interpret my mood.

It is terrible, in a way, and almost too much to bear: this awesome responsibility I have assumed, and largely ignored, as a father, to allay my son’s fears–and not to be his fear.

I think this way so often, bound as I am in what David Foster Wallace calls the “natural default setting, of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.”

But the God-honest sparkle in Owen’s eyes, the enthusiasm he seemed to hold for the moment,  suggested the opposite: I was not unique, or alone, at all. My son was here with me, and he was offering me what I have so often failed to give him, a refuge from my fears, a simple reminder: This is life, now, and I am here, with him.

Since that moment, I have felt a strong urge to sob outloud. But I have also felt a sense of resolve building within me. Salzberg’s wisdom helps, too. I don’t know what’s going to happen. And that’s fine. It’s always been that way. For now, I am home with Owen and Ella, with Karen. I am angry. I am sad. I am happy. I am all of these things, and more. So I just keep telling myself: I am. I am. I am.