"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

YOU ARE HERE

When I was five years old, my father lost me at the San Francisco Zoo in front of the elephant habitat. I keenly remember the feeling, the opposite of panic, as everything around me slipped in to slow motion. I did not want the strangers around me to notice what had happened, that my dad had screwed up, so I just stood there frozen. Five minutes passed in an hour as I watched one of the elephants eat some very moldy-looking hay, and I felt sorry for both of us. This was to be the basis of my understanding that adults were fallible. I willed myself to keep breathing and not move a muscle until Dad found me. I wondered if Mom would be mad at him should he arrive home from our outing with just my brothers, and I considered that to be a definite possibility.

Actually, growing up, my dad lost me at various other places - Andy's Pet Shop, Orchard Supply, Mel Cotton's Army Surplus, but the zoo incident was classic. I asked him once if he remembered that day and, with a sheepish grin, he told me about the serious look on my face when he and my brothers finally backtracked to those poor elephants and found me. Apparently, I did not cry until he picked me up.

As an adult, I still get lost a lot and I hate the feeling just as much. Whenever I am at Woodfield mall, O'Hare airport or Union station, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Art Institute, Navy Pier or the Museum of Science and Industry, I search for those huge framed maps and seek out the big red X or dismembered hand that points to where I am. Can't read a map worth a damn, but I love those three little words: YOU ARE HERE.

If I were brave, and thirty years younger, I would consider having those words tattooed on my body. I need them some place permanent as a constant reminder of their importance. Because, really, when I stay focused in the present, and let go of my attachment to the past and fixation with the future, I am happier. That is the lesson and this is what I know. When I visit my father, I can no longer bemoan the happy days of my childhood or six years ago or even the day before yesterday. I do not want to fret any more about the choices I made. I should not fear nor anticipate what will surely come. Presently, there is nothing more to be done but show up. I cannot panic even when time slows down and five minutes pass in an hour.

Yesterday, Charlie and I brought a picnic to Bickford and ate lunch with Dad in the courtyard. Afterward, there was a concert in the dining room and a one-man-band played tunes from decades past. Dad listened quietly and nodded off, but suddenly came-to-life when he heard THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA being played on the saxophone. An old Stan Getz song awakened something in my father's brain and he started to weep softly. He was in a different era, to be sure, and probably the one where he was a young soldier courting a beautiful Swedish girl with pinned-up pigtails, but there it was - the big red X, the pointing finger. He reached for my hand and kissed my palm. He confused me for my mother. That's okay, Dad. YOU ARE HERE.

2 comments:

  1. Terrific, as always. I love the thought of getting those three words tattooed to remind us to truly live in the present. Great post.

    I smiled when I hit the name of the song that got to your dad. It always makes me think of my mom, who loved it as well. Recently somebody gave me a Kenny G album so I could learn a song from it to play at their wedding. Although it's not like anything I usually listen to, I've kept it in the CD player...perhaps for the memories that song brings back to me.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Love you, Lanie. Thanks for reading. Best memories of all, your parents and mine and the deep friendship they shared. I can still hear them in the living room on Harleigh Drive or Perego Way, drinking wine on a Friday night. Our dads rolling on the floor laughing by the end of the evening. They were truly happy people.

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