Friday, August 14, 2009

Coming of Age, Part Two: Grains of Sand

The last time I saw my cousin Gina De Marco was at Christmas 1989, when we all made our way to my sister Fran’s house near Cleveland, Ohio, during one of the coldest holiday seasons on record. We had played together as children in a great big sandbox at Gina's house, but lost touch for many years after my family moved from Ohio to Florida. By the end of 1989 Gina was a beautiful 20-year-old with big brown eyes, attending college.

We had a great time during the visit. After flying home, catching a cold on the airplane and finishing what was left of my last Christmas break of my last year in college (and my last foray in the make-believe world before I had to launch myself into a real working life), I packed up my stuff and made the four-hour drive back to school in Tallahassee, Fla.

Shortly after arriving, a phone call from my brother informed me that Gina had died in an icy car crash that weekend in Ohio. And just like that, the last grains of imagined childhood innocence slipped through my fingers like fine sand, as quickly as Gina had slipped from life to death.

I spent that final semester of college haunted by the photos we had taken of Gina just 10 days or so before her death: hanging out in my sister’s living room, happy, perfectly healthy, well-adjusted to life. I clung to the distant mental images of the two of us playing in a sandbox as young children in the early 1970s, hanging out, happy, perfectly healthy, trying to adjust to childhood. Had it all been a dream?

While passing co-eds on campus—and there was no shortage of coeds at Florida State University—I would sometimes see her face. I threw my all into school that semester and earned a 4.0 in my classes to finish strong, and part of me was serving the effort as a tribute to Gina; my own private way of keeping her memory alive.

I have noticed ever since then that what is most precious to me is ever fleeting and already slipping through my fingers, even as I hold it before me: naked innocence; people; opportunities; happiness; and so forth. Every moment matters, and in my constant hurry to get to the distant future that could be I often fail to appreciate the current stretch of highway.

Even as I write this my oldest daughter is already just shy of 10 and my youngest a year away from starting kindergarten. I feel adoration for my little girls that resonates with that sense of falling into bliss for the first time, and this provides a taste of how God must feel about me. They are both full of life, perfectly healthy, trying to adjust.

I want to help them to understand and leverage who they are becoming, and find community and vital relationships; even as I continue to unwrap my own identity and seek to more fully thrive in my uniqueness. I do not want to let one grain of their precious childhood or innocence slip through my fingers. I want to hold all the sand in the palms of my hands, and keep eternity secured in the shelter of my passionate oversight. I cannot come to terms with even the potential of goodbyes when it concerns my little ones and their own big brown eyes.

But I know I cannot retain the grains any more than I can suspend the tides or predict the winds. I can only play hard and bring out as much joy and potential in them as possible, during whatever fleeting time we have to share together in the sandbox.


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I caught the end of a documentary, sometime ago, about writer, Jan Morris. She was saying something to the effect that all that really matters in the end is kindness. I was really struck by this but couldn't remeber the writer's name. I did a search and found your March blog entry about a similar quote from a song. I thought you may be interested in this reference.

"The word nowhere, in Morris's vocabulary, isn't negative. It's a "highly subjective sort of place," out of time, where one is brought to confront oneself and see clearly at last the preoccupations of a lifetime. Kindness -- all that really matters at life's end, she says -- reigns there."

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