Saying goodbye to J on his first day of first grade felt like I was sending him off into the open sea on a homemade raft—tightly woven together everyday moments of our family life that are a mixed-up, mismatch of colors and textures, a combination of past and present, beautiful and tragic, alive and dead, family and friends and ancestors all spinning together. I felt comforted by this image, but also a little self-conscious, as if the intimacy of our family life was somehow a little exposed by this weirdly-shaped raft—not any stranger than the others as all are equally unique, but odd just the same.
We celebrated our last day of summer with a trip to the zoo. J and I rode the train, laughing as the ride squeaked and sputtered and whistled down the rickety track. Later we sat on a quiet, sunny bench together eating popcorn and churros, him wondering aloud what kind of powers he was going to get by drinking red Powerade. He rode the merry-go-round, his long legs dangling over the plastic cheetah. Every time he circled around, he waved at me, smiling big and sticking his tongue out the hole of his missing front teeth. Around and around, hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye.
At the playground with C this week, he offered me a basketball and once I joined him, he gleefully shot into a mini-hoop, over and over until the sides of his face got sweaty. He hardly ever made it in, yet he appeared to have so much fun, laughing when our balls collided or when he almost made a hoop. Every now and then, he ran over to a nearby bench, sat for a few seconds, drank from his water bottle, and then ran back to shooting. I was amazed by this—his determination and love for shooting hoops at age two-and-a-half. It got me thinking about his dad and grandpa, who both played college basketball—of their spirits mixing together somehow, getting all jumbled up, intertwining and melding together, in this moment at least.
I guess we are all pieces of our family, of each other, breathing the same air. Do you think we ever merge or collide into one another in some other dimension? Could it be possible to somehow overlap when we are immersed so deeply in an activity in which our spirit experiences such passion it transcends logic? We are clearly so affected by each other in the physical world, our own energy changed so simply by registering the expression of someone else when they enter the room.
Yet somehow our worlds are also so far apart, with impermeable boxes around them as we can never really know another’s experience, never feel it in the way they do. With all the information we know, no matter how hard we listen, how close we can relate, it is still just a guess. Maybe that’s why love can be a rich, satisfying closeness, while at the same time, an isolation that is a sharp, unyielding edge.
“There’s so many worlds out there, it’s mind-boggling,” my husband said the other night. We were looking over the Bay Area from the hills, in one of those rare moments of stillness together, when everything seems quiet, except for a comforting buzz, that is the movement of the world. Then I thought of billions of homemade rafts, invisible pieces of past and present tied together with mud and reeds, carrying, loving, dreaming, drifting along forever, for all those people filling cars, buses, boats, planes—driving through, docking, taking off into the sky, overlapping, integrating, merging, pulling apart—circular and unending, hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye.