Friday, November 2, 2007

"the dark bright pity of being human"

I came across this video the other day. I watched it figuring it would be one of those fun little digestible nuggets you find in such abundance on the web, maybe it would be something funny or rabble-rousing, inspiring or preposterous. Surely, there would be some zinger at the end, the punchline, as they call it.

Then came the way this man described the weight of grief he carries with him wherever he goes, the way even the simple pleasure of watching a ball game is forever colored by his loss, the loss of his son. And then came his gratitude at the simple gift of being allowed to talk about it, that "brick" that he carries around.

Something in my own tears told me I couldn't just let this go by, this chance encounter in my internet wanderings. "Drug related death." That was all this heart broken man could manage when asked for more about his son. It was that "environment" that took him away. Pete was the boy's name. My first instinct was to latch on to this as a cautionary tale, to show it to my own son, who is 16, and my daughter, 13. As if to say to them, "See what's at stake! Please be safe! Please!"

Lately, I've often found myself just on the edge of having that heart to heart conversation, the one where you warn your kid about the temptations and the dangers out there. Every sitcom that makes light hearted fun of stoner humor, every pop song (especially my own old rock and roll classics), every image or idea that resonates with a drug induced understanding of 'chic' has me ready to climb up on my pulpit and sermonize. What "rush" could ever be worth this amount of grief, this weight, that brick? Tell me.

That was my first reaction, and I probably will show this to my children, but it occurs to me that there's something more going on in this three-minute video. This is more than an oblique public service announcement about the dangers of drug abuse. There's something to the story of this man wandering toward the ballpark, alone and with four tickets in his pocket.

You can't help noticing what a beautiful day it is, as this man speaks of his heart ache. It is one of those gorgeous late summer days. You can feel it on your skin. The shear physical joy of it, you just know that this is what reminds this man of his son, and what recalls his loss, what compels this conversation we find ourselves witnessing.

There is something beautiful at work here.

There is dignity in this man's grief, but more importantly there is an exhilarating awareness of his surviving connectivity with his son. He is aware of his loss, but also of something that can never be lost. Shrimp and french fries. Those ball games, their time together, the smell of sunlight. There is something here about what it means to be —just as Hamlet said it, simply to be, to live and die, with blessings and loss. This is what it means to experience what the novelist Alice Sebold, in 'The Lovely Bones,' describes as "the dark bright pity of being human." This is something beautiful.

We all of us have our darker habits and destructive instincts. I think the darkest and most destructive come when we try to pretend we are alone and distinct, separate. We fall to the dangerous illusion of a self apart, and away. So much young suffering happens on this account. Those older aren't immune either, but for some of them another knowledge begins to sink in.

Lives reach across. One thread passes another weaving. And for all the pain and grief and loss there is the promise of light, like the light as one man finds it, in ghostly company at an afternoon baseball game.

Yes, there is something beautiful at work here.

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