Thursday, February 17, 2005

To my son, on his 15th birthday

I love it when you surprise me. Here's a little episode that I don't want to forget.

Remember last summer, when we buried your Yiayia, mom's grandmother? She was 95, in good health, and she died suddenly, but not so suddenly that her daughters couldn't all be with her at the end. That's something to be grateful for, if you ask me, and I know she would agree. Do you remember how we spent the next few weeks looking at photos of her, digging up forgotten ones, passing them around, and talking about them?

One day during all this you said to your grandmother, "Yiayia doesn't look very happy in the old pictures, does she?"

Well, that puzzled your mom and me, and we went back over some of the pictures. There she was on her wedding day in Greece in 1937 . . . . then at her apartment next to Garfield Park in Chicago, with two of her four girls by her side . . . . and one with her husband in Michigan during the summer . . . . and a whole bunch more. In all of these pictures she's smiling. In fact she was very much disposed to be a cheerful person, but there's no getting around it: you were right. If you look closely, she doesn't look happy. And surely there's no wonder. By the time most of those photos were taken, she had left Greece with her new husband, expecting to return within a couple of years. Then World War II broke out, then the civil war, then her younger sister was murdered, and she was stuck here for good. Here in Chicago, she was raising four girls in a small home, cooking and cleaning for a revolving host of relatives and friends, while her husband worked himself ragged until he died of colon cancer when their oldest child was only 17. I know you're aware of a lot of that story, but I certainly don't think it was on your mind that day. What you did was look at those pictures and see something of your great-grandmother's struggles reflected in the tilt of her head, her posture, her gaze.

You're a comfortable suburban boy who's never been uprooted or known untimely loss, but even in the middle of your adolescent haze you have left yourself open to seeing past the smile of an old lady who loved you. Well, birthdays are for wishes, so here's what I wish for you, my son and first child, on your 15th birthday: I wish that you will keep that part of you alive. Hold it, cherish it, don't ever lose that natural empathy, that focus, that interest, that lets you look at another person's face and really see it, see the pain, the joy, the actual spirit wavering before you. I wish that you will keep your eye clear, and never blind yourself to the struggles of others, or stop yourself from doing something about them when you can.

You know what else I wish? I wish that sometime around the year 2090, your great-granddaughter will be looking at pictures, or holograms, or memory modules, or whatever they'll be called then, and she'll see one of you. Maybe you paddling a canoe, or laughing on a beach, or sitting around a table with some friends, or holding your first child for the first time (and I can tell you, right there, that's a moment you won't soon forget). And I wish she'll say "Hey look at Grandpa W when he was young . . . . he looks like he's got it all, doesn't he?" And I wish her dad will say, "Yeah, he's a pretty amazing guy."

It's funny, and maybe a little sad, to think how little of this I will probably manage to say to you today. But these are the things I wish for you. Happy birthday, son.


Anonymous Annie H. said...

Flea directed me to your blog and this entry specifically. It was very moving. Your son is very lucky to be given those wishes by you.

3/01/2005 11:13 PM  

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