by Robert C. Koehler
Relax, kick back, enjoy life.
My daughter, Alison, who is 36 years old, flew into town the other day (angel that she is) and I can’t let go of the wonder and miracle of it all . . . being alive.
I had intended to write a column this week about the nature of the U.S. security state and the country’s trillion-dollar, only minimally challenged annual “defense” — actually, offense — budget, but then I came upon a journal entry I wrote in 1988, when my daughter, who is a stained-glass artist and poet living in Paris, was 2 years old.
Was this the birth of her career?
“Oh gosh, here it is, the morning of my 42nd birthday. I just dropped Alison off at Katy, Patrick and Erin’s. For some reason, she was real reluctant to go this morning. She was feeling her own brand of tension and disorientation. When Alison gets disoriented, she has to find some small, tangible, happy thing to focus on — for instance, the stained-glass teddy bear in Katy’s porch window. To psych herself up for her day at the babysitter this morning, Alison had to say, ‘I’m going to see the teddy bear!’ And imitating me as we walked down the sidewalk toward Katy’s house, ‘Where’s that teddy bear?’
“Happily, the teddy bear was still in the window (‘He’s got a bow!’) and, when we rang the doorbell, Erin and Patrick and Kevin came running to the door and just mobbed Alison, they were so happy to see her. As I left, she was jumping up and down in the living room. ‘Good jumping!’ Katy said.
“As much as I’m struggling right now — unable even to find my own teddy bear equivalent to focus on — I just can’t stop being delighted with Alison. Now more than ever, it seems. On Friday, Barbara (my wife) took Alison to Bo Ric’s for her very first haircut ($6). It was a fabulous success! Barbara’s convinced that Alison has had a personality transformation since the haircut — no more prickly heat rash, no more barrettes. At 2 years old, she’s already a liberated woman — and she looks unbelievably cute and adorable and stylish with her nifty little sport haircut.
“Alison is definitely the light of my life these days. Her affectionateness does seem to have increased since the haircut. Sometimes Barbara and I just sit back and look at her, as she is absorbed in play, and our hearts just burst with pride and wonder. Alison is definitely precocious in two ways: She is verbally fluent and she’s got a well-advanced sense of humor. She seems to be emerging as a class clown. She’s always making other little kids laugh, and she also flatters them by giving them straight-forward attention. Thus, she is very popular. Serena, for instance, is always saying that she loves Alison. Whenever Serena is looking at a book and sees a picture of two kids, she’ll call one of them Serena and the other Alison — so Mommy Chris reports to Barbara.
“Anyway, I could go on and on about little stuff like this, about the impressions Alison makes on others. Last week, Julie expressed amazement at Alison’s grasp of logic. I was recounting the Roger Rabbit story (how afterward we talked about ‘the balloons’ and she reached the triumphant breakthrough: ‘The balloons can’t hurt me!’) and Julie, who is a teacher, said she knows 5-year-olds who wouldn’t be capable of that.
“So yeah . . . pride, pride, pride. We have a winner of a child here. The other day, as I was leaving for work, Alison told me, ‘You write stories!’ She knows what I do already!”
It’s so easy to remember only the struggles of life, to forget the ho-hum, but this is where the gold lies, the soft, glowing gold of life. When I wrote these words in my journal, my wife had only 10 years left to live. She died of cancer in 1998. But she remains alive in this memory.
How can such a glow light up our politics? How can we organize ourselves around the awareness that life matters — all life? I don’t know. But I felt something not just precious but eternal as I read these words and I knew I had to pull them out of the past. I had to let them light up the present moment . . . right now.