My son fell tonight. He hit his upper lip on the floor, and for the first time, he bled. Not badly, but a dark, nearly purple red. He cried hard for a few seconds. My wife comforted him, held him. He nursed hesitantly. Then he said Okay. And Let’s go. She put him down again, held his hand. Did she lead him or did he lead her to the dining room, the spot where he fell? Let’s go come on let’s go. Can I see your lip? Yes. Well let me see it! Let’s go!
Now I read something, quickly, as my wife and son sleep. I am distracted. I am still thinking of my son’s cut lip, the warm way such an injury smarts and lingers. What I am reading is about music. Johnny Cash and astronauts. That this odd, dissonant juxtaposition somehow represents an artistic innovation. A way to transcend and include within the context of a traditional form of music. I’m not following it. I’m not paying attention, the way I wasn’t paying (enough) attention when my son fell down and hurt himself and he cried out, briefly, in a strange revelation of pain I could not (can not) take from him. He has to fall. Again and again. Somehow it helps his body learn. This odd dissonance. This urgency (let’s go let’s go) with which we will both (again again) return to this scene, and others like it, for years (God willing) to come.
Our pediatrician is strange. He talks to us, at length. Wears cowboy boots, outlandish belt buckles. His office is a refurbished barn. A snake, he tells us, is a wiggly stick. If you lose him in a place where there is water, go to the water. He’s afraid of dogs? Good! He listens to my son’s heart, smiles and says nothing and goes on his way.
My son’s heart is fine. I don’t need a doctor, even a strange but good one, to tell me this. He says It’s okay! through pinkish teeth, seconds after he busts his lip open. I’m not sure where he gets this sunny disposition:
Two weeks ago, I was in an Arby’s off the highway between Montgomery and Birmingham (a caricature-thoroughfare of banners-yet-wave Confederate flags and Devils-gonna-get you signage). As I waited for my sandwich, I had a flash of panic: what if someone comes, right now, to rob this place? Or to simply, madly shoot it up, for no gaining idea? Could I escape? What would happen to my son if I did not? Now I know there must be ghosts, restless spirits who won’t or can’t leave the living. Come on let’s go! I won’t leave him. I can’t. I need him more than he needs me. Someday soon he’ll realize that. He probably knows it now.
The zen master says, I cannot be a good zen master, says, walk with me for a while in the rain, and (I’m paraphrasing, you know? Redacting, even…) if (when) I am too slow for you (my son, my life, my dear sweet salvation, revelation, my beloved urgency…) please, son: go ahead of me.