Monday, October 14, 2013

When Time is Short

The rocks near In-Ko-Pah on the way to San Diego look to me like sand grains must look to ants in a sand box. The granite boulders  rise in giant cones along the interstate. It is hard not to stare, and the feeling of being small is the perfect state of mind for this trip to visit my son Sean.

He has been in college at the University of San Diego for the past three years, and has invited us over for Parent's Weekend. We will see him for the first time in his usual haunts: his dorm room and role as RA, the climbing gym, where he trains and works with the USD climbing club, the beach where he surfs, the classrooms where he works on his projects in the mechanical engineering program, and in the company of his girlfriend, Mina.

He will graduate this year, so it is important for us to go. Time has a way of doing that, of getting tight toward the end of things.

I am more and more aware that I inhabit a body that is slowly shutting down. It's a visceral knowledge that grows at the edges of my consciousness. The urgency to live because time is limited presses up against my diaphragm. It is insistent.

Once we are over the passes of the rugged coast range east of San Diego, we drop fast into the city. Traffic picks up and the pace of life quickens in the form of new BMWs, Mercedes, Lexuses (Lexi?), that travel in tight formation, tail gating at 80 miles per hour.

My Tucson sensibilities feel slow, limited, and a bit provincial.

Interstate 8 ends near the college and we exit. Sean is waiting for us at his dorm room. He has plans for the weekend. We will climb, go to the beach, eat, meet his girlfriend. But mostly, we will let him show us his life, let him be the tour guide to his world.

I am impressed by his room. He has a kitchen and a bathroom and runs his space well -- dishes in the racks, fridge stocked, TP on the role, towels hanging. There are two broken surf boards behind his couch. Conversation starters, no doubt. There is also the hand-made guitar made in the wood shop, the compressed air engine made in machine shop, the books on a course in genocide (not how to perpetrate, but how atrocities are caused and how questions of ethics run through our behavior or lack thereof). There is a white board with upcoming tasks outlined with dates and priorities. His is a rich, complex, and fast-paced life. The boy is growing up. And he is happy. Big hugs all around.

Sean radiates energy. He is passionate, all-in, on fire. And the feeling is contagious. What is possible takes shape in his orbit. He encourages others to dream.

Man. I have a lot to learn.

We move in, share some food, and begin the process of catching up. Tucson and my other life fades in favor of being here, of seeing things through Sean's eyes.

He makes us power pancakes with bananas in the morning before he takes us to the climbing gym. They are tasty and dense and new to me, like so much else.

I notice a book shelf that is suspended by shelf brackets and string nailed into drywall. I notice it is sagging under the weight. Sean explains that the forces pushing down have to be counter-acted by forces lifting or anchoring. It is a finite element enduring an ongoing moment of stress.

The room is full of the person -- the man -- he is becoming.

At the rock climbing wall, he sets me up on five seven, thinking that it will be manageable. I negotiate about a third of the wall before I freeze at a technical move and fall. I don't have the arms, the hands, the technique, or mental ability to handle the climb. My arms are thick with lactic acid as he lowers me off the climb. He sees, I think, for maybe the first time, my encroaching limitations of age. He and I will have to lower the bar so I can play at the gym. We renegotiate roles.

He is the master, I the neophyte.

And he is a master of the wall, an artist. He has been climbing seriously for seven years and has entered into an elite community of climbing elders.

He shows us some bouldering moves. I notice others at the gym watch in awe. I join them in awe, even though I don't know enough to fully appreciate what I am seeing. The ability to support one's weight relying only on the tips of fingers, the final joint, is not unlike dancers in toe shoes, takes years of practice, conditioning, training. The subtle sensibility necessary to fully appreciate what I am seeing eludes me. To really grasp what is behind his moves, I would have to spend years on the wall.

I do know that, on the wall, I am heavy beyond my strength to support, a new thing for me. What I take for granted that I can do is no longer a measure for actual ability; the brain has not yet registered my decline in things muscular. I guess aging comes as something of a surpise sometimes.

Sean introduces us to his friends and, they too, are residents of worlds I can only imagine. They convey the serenity of self-possession, confidence, proven strength, steady courage. They look straight into my eyes and do not shrink, deviate, or condescend. They are, however, intoxicated by the energy of youth, of imagining the possible, of meeting and mastering physical and intellectual challenges. They are royalty and grow in strength from the love they give to each other.

I touch what I believe to be a dream of humanity. They have opportunity and are all-in, going for it, unfettered by fear or anger, or better, supporting each other as each bumps into fear or other crippling emotion.

I cannot begin to measure the gratitude I feel, the humility, the awe.

I open to all of it.

We enjoy the rest of the day and the weekend with meals, conversations, places, and connections with young, optimistic, unbroken, joyous people who are making the most of their college years. It is a new thing for me, and I pause to wonder at this.

Can it be that such a thing is really possible? I will have to re-frame the boundaries of my imagination, will have let off the brakes, tear down some barriers, sidestep some "not possibles" for that to sink in.

But, when time runs short, such things become possible. Good examples help, and sometime children become teachers. Well, just about everything becomes a teacher if you think about it, open to it.

Thanks Sean. And sorry if I embarrassed you.

Much love,

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