Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Life is rarely a neat little package

In college a few years back, I had the privilege of taking afew courses taught by an exceptional writer who was also very talented as a teacher (an odd combination, to say the least). One of the more lasting comments she'd written on a short story of mine boiled down to a suggestion that the reader didn't need everything tied up in a neat little bow.

Life is rarely black and white and I was trying too hard to draw connections that weren't there or make everything fit inside the confines of very rigid stylistic parameters. Obviously, this was a problem for a 20-something writer who thought they knew more about the intricate workings of a human life than they actually did.

Still, when there are chance occurrences that fall into line, it overjoys the part of my personality that craves order and straight lines. Sunday was one of those days.

On the surface, it was just another busy day in what has become normal life for my wife and me. The morning was a visit to the NICU to see my sister hold my son for the first time, followed by a dinner with both of our families in the afternoon. On the ride home, things took a different path when her folks called and asked us to come to the hospital, where her uncle had taken a turn for the worse and the family was gathering.

Looking back on a groggy Monday morning, I decided that if someone landed on Earth and wanted a quick course on the human experience, there would be worse days than Sunday to show them to get the broad strokes.

In the morning, I was there to see a newborn baby still meeting his immediate family, family members still awed by his arrival, the minor hustle and bustle, scheduling conflicts and adjustments and insignificant disagreements that were quickly forgotten by everyone.

That afternoon, both sides of the family and a few close family friends got together to laugh, eat and debate the relative merits of the new Chevy Camaro. Dinner was loud and warm and subject to moments of goofy fun, like throwing dinner rolls across an immacculately set table.

Our late evening was spent driving through the snow to go and see Uncle Mitch in what ended up being his final hours. The family sat together in a hospital waiting room and traded stories while we waited. In an odd juxtaposition, his immediate family congratulated us on the birth of our son before we could sputter out clumsy words to help them feel better on what was supposed to be a somber evening.

As I've learned, it's more often shades of gray than black and white.

Aside from the very linear storyline of the day, going from birth to death, the mix seemed eerily balanced. It was the sublime facets of a good life, like joy and love that were sandwiched in between mundane issues and broken wiper blades. I have no better handle on any of this than I did years ago when I knew it all. I've heard hundreds more songs that have offered fleeting, imperfect glimpses into how it all binds together, put more miles behind me literally and figureatively, met all sorts of different people, gotten married and had a child.

I only know this for sure - in order to enjoy the first two parts of the day, you need to also accept the third. The real trick seems to be sorting through all of the white noise that fills the space between. More than that, it's usually the day to day nuts and bolts that keep me from driving out to see my parents or from taking time to grab dinner with my sister and her husband. Work, school, picking up the dry cleaning and making sure there is food in the fridge are all important and obviously need to be addressed, but on days that play out as broadly as Sunday, it's a lot harder to take them seriously.

It's also a lot easier to see why it's all worth it.

(Image from FreeFoto.com)