Sometimes, it helps to break things down to simple facts and figures. A complex notion can suddenly become much easier to comprehend; a faraway possibility on the other hand, may suddenly become a harsh reality.
I experienced the latter a couple of weeks back.
My wife and I had just returned from work; we had finished our dinner and as has been the practice lately, we crashed on to our bed for a brief stretch of those tired joints. This is done in the hope that we can rest for a while before going out for a walk later in the evening. I say "hope", because almost always, it remains just that - for the moment we hit the bed, almost as if by magic, there are a couple of additional bodies on our bed. I do not know how they do it, but within seconds, we have our two boys in with us, squishing, squashing and wrestling for every inch of space available on the bed.
All hopes of rest vanish in the blink of an eye.
With a muddle of arms and legs intertwined and mangled everywhere, the smell of sweat in the air resulting in at least one pair of wrinkled nostrils, pushing and shoving, laughter, cries and the occasional shouts, our bed would probably win a contest for the most densely populated piece of furniture in the world. I do not say this as an exaggeration, because as anyone who knows me will attest, I am not a small man by any stretch of imagination. And the two boys are not the little fellows anymore - they are almost as tall as me and the three of us can indeed contribute a decent amount of surface area and weight per square inch of the bed. The lone lady on the bed probably helps to balance it out a little, but that effect is quite certainly very negligible.
And so the time of anticipated rest becomes anything and everything but that. Stories of what happened in the day at school and at the hospital are shared - crushes and crashes, heart throbs and heart breaks, pain at seeing a sick child and the joy of seeing a healed child, frustration and joy - they are all poured out and narrated with great gusto and a lot of detail. It may be more accurate to say that three people narrate and one listens. After all, what would all the narrators in the world do if there were no good listeners to hear them out?
It continues for a good hour - almost every day; until a few of the older limbs begin squeaking in dissent and when not given due attention, numb up in protest. This is when the two young men are gently coerced to leave. And when that fails, as it always does, they are invited to leave in a slightly more unceremonious manner - "kicked out" somehow sounds a bit too harsh on paper! They leave unwillingly just as the bard said - as a schoolboy to school and to his books with heavy looks. Only to return back the next day, same time, same place. These evening moments have become without doubt the most eagerly anticipated moments of each passing day.
It is surprising that this has become a practice only in the last couple of years; I probably would not have been as surprised if it had happened a few years ago, when the boys were much younger, but for this to happen when they are well into their "rebellious" teen years is indeed very unexpected, to say the least! Could it be because they (and we) realize and appreciate such moments better now? Or is it perhaps just due to the simple fact that my wife and I have been managing to consistently come home together in the early evenings only now?
Maybe. But I believe it is equally, if not more, due to the implications of the number 397.
You see, it struck me recently that there is a distinct possibility that we may only get to enjoy having our elder son around the house for those many days longer- at least on a full time basis. I use the term "a distinct possibility" very deliberately and consciously - even though most of us would like to believe we have things under our control, none of us really have the faintest idea what may actually happen in these 397 days!
I believe the finitude of these remaining number of days gives me a sense of urgency and maybe even a sense of compulsion, to not waste a single moment that I have with the kids. What seemed so remote and distant as they were crawling about and running around is now very close at hand - almost too close for comfort. A faraway possibility is no longer that - it is almost upon us and there is no running away. Now obviously, this is written from a single perspective - of being unable to be physically close to our kids as we are now. Obviously, there is the other positive side to it - the joy of seeing them become big enough to fly away on their own; to fend for themselves and hopefully begin a similar countdown at some stage of their own lives!
Continuing with this "circle of life" theme, I wonder if my parents had a countdown too, as I was growing up?
I belong to the generation that grew up not receiving hugs from my parents (at least ever since I was old enough to remember), leave alone wrestle with them on the bed! But was it because our parents loved us any lesser? I do not think so; in fact, I know it is not so. It was just a different way of growing up - an age where emotions were not so freely and lavishly expressed, an age not yet cluttered with birthdays, Fathers' and Mothers' days, an age where you did not have to "like" a loved one's photograph on Facebook to show your love. A bygone era, a different era. The same love, the same emotions, maybe not as expressive though. That's all.
It was the morning of my wedding day.
Dawn was just breaking but I was already wide awake. It was still dark in the house and I could hear a few cocks crowing in the distance. We used to stay in a very small rented house during those days and the presence of a few uncles, aunties & cousins the night before the wedding, meant that I had slept on the floor in the living room. Even though I was awake, I was too lazy to get up; so I just lay down, a quiet prayer in my mind, trying to imagine the events that would unfold in the coming few hours.
I heard a slight movement behind me and I felt someone stealthily walk up to where I was supposedly sleeping. The person gently lay down beside me taking care not to wake me up. I instinctively tensed up, but I was careful not to move a muscle, lest I let out that fact that I was actually awake and not asleep as it seemed. In the dark I could not make out who it was, but as soon as I felt a strong muscular arm cover my back and gently press my shoulders, I knew that it was my father. He lay beside me for a couple of minutes, his arm on my back. And then he quietly got up and went away. I still did not move.
It was a "hug" that carried the warmth of all the suppressed hugs of twenty-five years - a father blessing his son, as he stood on the threshold of family life. I felt a lump in my throat, even as the tears that welled up in my eyes dissolved into the darkness.