All That Matters

The big white, mystical moon floats over Third Avenue as I drive my son to school. It looks like a ghost of a planet. Faint outlines of continents and oceans. Big craters. A world covered in dust.

“Maybe that’s where we used to live,” I say.

“The moon? No, Dad,” he says. “We used to live on Mars. Then we destroyed it. We migrated to the next planet, which we’re destroying now.”

“How’d you come up with that?”

“It came to me in a dream one time, and I think about it a lot.”

I like this thought. All of us starting over from scratch. Reinventing ourselves, guided by the great magic the keeps all of us together, but apart at the same time. I’m not sure we’ll ever get it right. Our energy is misplaced, as we create and embrace that which divides rather than unites. All of us, despite our best efforts, tend to focus on splintering the beliefs of others rather than trying to understand them. It’s a tough, beautiful life with rewards unfathomable if we’re living it right. An experience I’m thankful for each morning as I take that eight-minute ride with my son.

We are sitting at the stoplight. Waiting for the green. When it comes, I hesitate because there is an awful, unsettling feeling in my gut. There’s a jacked-up four-wheel-drive pickup behind us, and it is not happy. It flashes its high beams and honks its horn.

“What are we waiting for, Dad?”

“I’m not sure…”

And then it comes. A beat up, burgundy minivan speeds like a rocket through the intersection.

“Wow!” My son says, “They just blew a red light!”

“They sure did.”

I glare at the truck in the rearview mirror. I want to say that I always take the high road. That I have learned the patience necessary to turn the other cheek. That thoughts of revenge, retribution, and confrontation are easily dismissed. But none of that’s true. All I can say is that I’m trying. I bite my lip, wring my hands around the steering wheel, and move us slowly through the intersection. The moon hovers above the junior high school as I drive around to the drop off point.

My son is happier these days. Being 12 and in seventh grade is better than being 11 and in sixth, I guess. He is growing. Changing. He excels at athletics but has to work harder than other kids for decent grades. He is kind and respectful to the outside world as far as I can tell. Yet he struggles with the basics like remembering homework, shutting off a light when he leaves a room or putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket. It’s all normal. It’s all good. But it’s hard sometimes for me to remember that he’s still just a kid doing his best to figure out the world.

A girl gets out of the black sedan in front of us. She stands, pulls her long brown hair back and makes it into a bun atop her head. My son’s eyes lock onto her. I swear, his pupils dilate.

“Who’s the gal?”

“She’s not a gal, Dad. She’s a person.”

“Okay then, who’s the person?”

He grabs his backpack, opens the car door.

“Have a great day, buddy!”

And he slips away. Slams the door. Doesn’t say a word. I want to get out, run after him and give him a big hug to embarrass him so that he’s reminded of the importance of saying goodbye, but we’ll work on that another time. He’s young, he’s got a lot going on, and there’s a lot to remember.

Look people in the eye when you meet them. Say please and thank you. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t pick your nose. Don’t chew your fingernails. Put dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Pick up trash, even if it isn’t yours. Be helpful.

I watch him. He’s walking with the person. Looking down at his feet. His shoulders are slumped forward, and in my head, I hear my wife telling him to stand up straight. She’s crazy about good posture. Suddenly, he stops and kneels. The person waits patiently, smiling, as my son ties his shoelaces, tightening them with a nice double-knot, just like I showed him years ago. He stands up. Nice and straight. They walk toward the school moving closer and closer together. I ease away from the school.

The jacked-up pickup is right behind me. Tailgating. The driver tosses a cigarette butt out the window. The orange ember streaks through the morning darkness. There’s plenty I’d like to do now–brake check, stop completely, get out and throw that butt right back into the truck–but as I begin to think of the many choices and resulting consequences, my son and his person reach out to hold hands. And today, that is all that matters.