Scene last night: Tio Marcelino and I were outside with the youngsters at grandma’s house, the unwrapping done, kids sledding down the driveway, everyone bundled against the frigid air, laughter. Especially moved watching the three-year-old climbing snow-faced from the latest high-speed de-sledding only to turn right around and – all marshmallow-swaddled in the necessary insulation – go stumping straight back up the hill, a teensy Miss Michelin joyfully hollering “let’s do it again!” Something about her out there tiny and happy in the bitter cold reminded me of the vulnerability of her in the world itself, and I had one of those moments (forgive me, I write about this a lot lately, but there you are) in which joy blends with dread. The emotional contrast was heightened by the moment earlier in the afternoon when we were deep in the paper-tearing phase, the family happily gathered in a sunroom looking out on fat greeting-card snowflakes falling to the free earth. Previously I had been reading a bit of Central American history and reflecting on the terrifying parallels related to us recently by Iraqi friends only recently released from unthinkable minute-to-minute deathly dread of death and kidnap threats. How fatefully, irreconcilably fortunate we are.
For various reasons, I feel foolish writing these things. For one, the observations are unoriginal. For another, sometimes we must – I suppose – just take things as they are and subvert the drama or all life would grind to a halt. And there is the whole proposition that such “musings” (one of my least favorite words) are an act of privilege solving nothing.
The capper, though, came later, after the tots were abed, and I read the following passage from Christopher Hitchens’ memoir Hitch-22:
To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase “terrible beauty.” Nothing can make one so happily exhilirated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body.
After the sledding, we dug snow tunnels. I gave my usual four-part speech about never playing in snow tunnels unless an adult was present. And then we just turned them loose, and head-first they scrabbled happily into the mystery until even their boots had disappeared. Tio and I went to the other side and waited for them to emerge.
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