I very recently turned 37 years old.
This, in and of itself, is no huge accomplishment. I have, through very little of my own doing, managed to not die over the course of 13,000 plus days. In the last few years I’ve come to have a new relationship with the anniversary of the day I was born.
The day before Jack awoke in the very early morning extremely sick. He was throwing up, had a fever and the chills. I took care of him the next day. Watching his fever rise and fall. Seeing him writhe on the couch while attempting to enjoy Thomas the Tank Engine. Perhaps the most heart breaking was the moments of strength he’d muster in which he’d insist he was “feeling well now” and he’d try to get up.
No. No. I spoke too soon. The award for heartbreaking certainly went to all the other moments that filled the gaps in time. The ones in which Jack, the boy who can’t be stopped, was laying motionless. Pale and rigid and absent the typical joy he has for simply being alive and awake. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that contrast.
Jack improved throughout the day, but as the night went on and the stroke of midnight before my birthday approached, it became pretty obvious that I was succumbing to the same bug. As I went to bed that night, stomach in knots, my thoughts were one of self pity. “Well, doesn’t this just figure.” and the like. I woke up to Jack and Allison singing Happy Birthday and one of the worst physically sick feelings I’ve had in years. I would say the only truly bad thing that happened to me throughout the day was that I was immediately struck with a sense of dread. Not for the circumstances of my illness and the day it fell on, but for my ability as a parent on that day. I knew that I was physically incapable of taking care of Jack and Charlie and I felt trapped.
However, as the day went on I was once again able to muster the strength and do things that I would not have though I was capable of doing four years ago. I’m not talking Labors of Hercules feats here, I’m talking about making sure a child and a baby are fed, safe and entertained while you feel like you’re staving off a resurgence of the Bubonic Plague. Simple feats that I, before fatherhood, would have not entertained as being within my relm of possibility.
The day wound on and I was able to do what my body needed: rest. Towards the end of the night, as the hours of my birthday ticked towards the inevitable finish of the day, I reflected on how I spend it. I was sick. It was hard to see through a lot of the fog most of the day, but I do believe that I managed to not be a jerk to my two kids. Probably most importantly, it help further cement how much I love my life right now. Yes, I was physically ill. But, I got to sit and watch Star Wars with Jack. I got to see him spring to his feet with excitement, go grab a pool noodle and pretend he was using it to shoot Rebel Soldiers. Yes, that’s right. In Jack’s imaginary Star Wars world he is a Stormtrooper. Go figure. I got to see Jack, knowing that his dad was sick, take a shot at entertaining Charlie. He’d make him laugh and try and comfort him when he was crying. I was able to see through the fog and come away with a few really precious experiences that will be there when I need to be carried through some future illness. They are with me now and part of my strength.
I ended the day with my head hitting my pillow and my two sons asleep in their respective beds. Like I said, simple things. These are the things I used to look past in search of the vast enterprises or the top of the mountain happiness. For surely, THAT is where I would find my meaning, my destiny, my worth as a human. That’s just not the case. For while I was searching for that happiness, I was snubbing the beautiful contentment that leads to ever lasting joy in a simple life well-lived.
I don’t try to climb that mountain anymore. My kids get sick now and I get to get sick because I take care of them. For the uninitiated, this might sound like the insane logic of a man attempting to find a shiny marble in a pile of horse crap. That’s okay. That’s what it is. We’ve all got our piles. Some of them are smaller than others, but we’ve all got them. I’ve been able to find my marble pretty consistently and have usually been happier for the looking. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I even find a pony in there.
But that’s a story for another time. Be well. Thanks for listening.