My wife and I used to spend our Sunday afternoons at the wine bar. Tucked into one of the corner couches, wine glasses in hand we talked for hours. Dreaming and imagining and creating a life built entirely with words. Our family was conceived on those afternoons. The “us” that we would eventually become originated right there. Together we looked forward into the world of marriage and careers and children, imagining how we might craft a life that felt like our own. It was a deeply precious time.
I’ve been thinking about those afternoons a lot lately. Preoccupied you might say. Nostalgic for the days when this life was nothing more than a beautiful idea. When the whole thing could fade seamlessly into the background when the check came. Because it’s hard to think these days. There is not a lot of space for contemplative dreaming. Life with young children is hardly a life of the mind. It is perhaps the furthest thing from it. It is a life of the now, the right this moment. And as much as I know that this too is a gift, on most days I don’t really understand it. The gift of it I mean.
As impossible as it seems, our actual life is even richer and fuller than our theoretical one. The reality is so much more than we could ever have imagined. Of course the more is where the trouble gets in. The distance between the theoretical and the actual is entirely a matter of amplitude. More joy, more anxiety, more beauty, more exhaustion. More, more, more. All of it is just so very much to manage, to hold. And there of course is a piece of the lesson. Life isn’t a thing to be managed. Grasping only tightens everything up. Less holding, more opening. That’s what is called for.
Unfortunately there is quite a bit of distance between knowing a thing and knowing it. That long path between the head and the heart. That’s where I spend my time these days. Creeping always towards the safety of the mind while this lovely, impossible family tugs me into the wild fray of the heart. I can think of no better way to spend my days, but I can imagine plenty that might be less chaotic. Luckily this life offers little space for imagining.
Now we spend Sunday afternoons in parks or alongside train tables. We pour milk and wipe bottoms with the sounds of little boy laughter and hysterical wailing alternating in our ears. There is precious little space for words, but I’m beginning to discover a space that exists outside of that. Finally. A space of doing and being, together. It’s not the safe, tidy space that we once shared. It’s more than that. During those moments when I have the grace to open up and let all of it in, it’s almost more than I can bear. My wife disentangles our youngest son from our oldest while explaining (again) that in this family we respect someone when they tell us “no” and I catch her eye. Just for a moment. She is weary with the conflict and the nearness to bedtime, but when our eyes meet she has a smile. Just for me.