Isaac was always our snuggler. Then toddler-hood descended and he became a beam of light in a room full of mirrors; a bowling ball shot out of a cannon. This didn’t mean we could no longer hug or hold him — but that it was often like catching the wind in a fishing net.
Bedtime. That’s when our child, this barely contained assemblage of chaotic energy, sat on our laps quietly while we read. It was my time to hold him close. Several months ago, he climbed into bed for the evening — but chose to sit beside me for his bedtime story. I wonder if he heard my voice crack as I read to him?
“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.” (Dr. Seuss)
Sometimes what we’re certain will last always and forever — happens for the last time. Parenting is a series of those transitions: The adorable mispronunciation that fades into maturity. The assistance they no longer need. Some tiny loss of an innocent perspective. Yesterday’s memories slowly dissolving into the mist.
The lesson however isn’t to grasp too tightly — or to live in fear of what we’ll lose. Today’s changes lead to tomorrow’s discoveries — and an endless array of new horizons. I often want to freeze some moment with my children — but if that were possible, I still may be crawling around my childhood home, my parents themselves willing time to stop.
Sometimes always and forever does happens for the last time — and I’m learning to be at peace with that. To cherish each moment — but to hold on loosely. To enjoy the metamorphosis — and even their faltering, uncertain steps toward autonomy that serve as stark reminders that we can’t hold on to them forever.
There is a group whose influence reverberates just outside the bounds of societal awareness. They may be doctors or janitors — physicists or high school dropouts. They are often the driving force of social progress, a group we are indebted to — yet we’re often unaware of their efforts — overlooked when using social metrics of success and failure.
I’m speaking of those who see the world, not as it is, but as it could be — and this vision, though as buffeted by disappointment and heartbreak as anyone’s, provides something equally compelling. It provides belief in the potential of those lives that intersect with theirs. This vision isn’t starry eyed delusion, but the capacity to look through hopeful eyes — then the willingness to patiently wait and trust and offer a sense of unflappable certainty that we’ll see it too. Then act.
For much of my life, I was unaware of them, ignorant of their impetus while attached to sterile definitions of optimism and pessimism — success and failure.
Then I met my wife, Sarah. For almost eleven years of marriage I’ve felt the empowering embrace of a visionary — of someone who loved me through complacency — whose ability to see beyond my framework of self-doubt altered my life in innumerable ways. While we all have a responsibility to act on our potential, it can be invaluable when someone sees through our protective walls and is a patient, supportive ally — and when necessary, provides a loving nudge.
I now understand the difference between optimism as a temporal emotion and optimism as an unbending belief.
Perhaps this isn’t what is typically written for a Valentine’s tribute. It’s short on flowers. And hearts. And red lettered calligraphy. My heart rate still accelerates when Sarah walks into the room. I envision romantic, moonlit nights in London and hiking with her through the Scottish highlands — those times are in front of us. Maybe it’s watching my children grow so quickly or my own rapid march toward forty, but I’ve been contemplating what love in action looks like — and the way Sarah’s life will echo through the generations that follow.
When Sarah’s biography is written, it will undoubtedly detail the ways her ineffable spirit touched the world but it will likely miss something profound — the way her tireless focus on serving the invisible and neglected was intertwined with the infectious confidence that helped others see their arc of possibility. We’ve become a nation marked by complacent acceptance — and a feeble discomfort with the status quo that can be mollified with The Next Big Thing. It desperately needs people to draw a line in the sand and vocalize their unwillingness to accept lukewarm mediocrity. On this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate one of those voices.
The world needs bank tellers and neurosurgeons and poets and dreamers — but it also craves those that can envision what could be. And what will be.