Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Blessing

A voice in the dark: “Ryan.” Only it isn’t dark, not entirely. The bedroom is lit with the eerie glow of the new alarm clock/radio’s blue LED, the sort of light cast by the TV that’s left on by grandmoms when they can’t sleep, only without the flickering.

“Ryan.” There it is again, that voice. Jenifer’s voice. I leap out of bed—which you can do when it’s only eight inches off the floor—and into action. The heartrate soars, adrenaline courses, the klaxons are blaring—DIVE! DIVE!—and I am the personification of power and puissance, I am a ninja, I am the wind, and I am fumbling with epic mightiness to fix a sock on Hawk’s flailing foot—and then Jenifer’s voice cuts in again and points out in no uncertain terms that my efforts are “strictly tertiary concerns” (I apparently having vaulted right over those of the primary and secondary orders) and that my attention is needed on the more immediate and urgent task of changing the wee bairn’s diaper.

Yes, of course, I answer, perhaps not in those words. I’m not sure, really, what I say, only I brave the beacon of Mínas Morgul (so I have come to call the ever-watchful blue LED; and, yes, I know in the movie it’s green) and haul baby Hawk into the bathroom for another stint at natural infant hygiene, otherwise known as “elimination communication”; for Jenifer has developed (and I to a lesser extent) the ability to detect his waste elimination needs almost before he does. Sometimes we miss (hence the diaper), but more often than not we anticipate in time and thus enjoy Hawk’s happy attention rather than his unhappy wrath. This, as you can imagine, is exhausting.

And I wonder why I find myself already a week out from the final day of the Screenwriters’ Conference of the Austin Film Festival. The conference was the first time I was away from little Hawk since his birth eight weeks (already!) before. During the summer Jenifer and I had decided that the conference would be sufficiently far away in time that my going would not be an issue; in fact, Jenifer insisted I go.

For weeks the trip loomed large in my imagination as I looked forward to the epic anchor point of the year, the screenwriter’s New Year; and if my departure was less grand than that of Húrin son of Thúrin, or of Hector’s taking leave of Andromache, each famously dandling their sons on the eve of their doom, then my return home was a triumph neither of those heroes could lay claim to. I had survived the foreign campaign unscathed and returned to hearth and home restored by the effort. During the conference, Hawk was never far from my thoughts, but upon seeing him again I was completely surprised by how overcome with emotion I was. How had he grown so much in only five days’ time? What had I missed? What new superpowers had he manifested? I felt reborn from four days of paneling and partying, but nothing could compare with Hawk’s evident transformation and the incessant march of his metabolism.

I had returned to the new world, the one without order or plan, the one that demanded an abandoning of expectation and preference for structure and predictability. In this world, as I have suggested, things tend to take longer to accomplish and at times risk not being done at all. So it was with our planning for Hawk’s baby blessing.

Jenifer and I had struggled to come up with a location and format for the event. When asked what a baby blessing was, I’d joke that it was a christening without the Christ, but really what we were after was a gathering of our closest friends and family that was reverent but not overly programmed. We felt that it should have a sense of ritual about it, should be led by a qualified facilitator; we didn’t want to just wing it. Here Hawk would be officially introduced to our community and we wanted to get it right.

Jenifer’s father joked that, knowing us, we’d enlist an East African shaman to conduct the ceremony. I wish I’d been there to see the look on his face when Jenifer reported that our first choice was, in fact, Malidoma Patrice Somé, noted shaman and elder of the Dagara tribe of West Africa. Unfortunately, his schedule was booked.

On to Plan B: The Great Quentini, a local performance artist known for his unconventional drum kits (fashioned from junkyard scraps), irreverent but heartfelt spoken-word pieces (on the importance of chlorophyll), and genius for unusual hats (carved from foam). But he, too, was unavailable.

I mentioned our dilemma to my local men’s group and one of the guys suggested we require everyone to bring their own blessing. YES! We would have everyone else shoulder the load. Perfect!

That left the location to find. We wanted an outdoor site and had originally dreamed of holding the event atop the nearby Hawk Mountain for obvious reasons, but with October you never know what kind of weather you’re going to get and we had mobility concerns to take into consideration for a couple of our guests. For a time the leading contender was Wayne’s Woods (named for General “Mad Anthony” Wayne) in the Valley Forge National Historical Park, but here there was no guarantee of freedom from crowds.

In the end we held the blessing at ocean earth wind fire, the yoga studio where Jenifer works and our home base in Phoenixville. Jenifer and Hawk and I took our place in the backyard and the gathered joined in an effortless circle. My mother started to Jenifer’s left, presenting a cross-stitch wall hanging announcing Hawk’s birthday, and then each member of the circle in turn presented his or her gift to Hawk. Each gift beautifully bespoke the giver’s individual talents: testaments, artwork, performance, poems both original and carefully chosen.

Just as the city sounds penetrated our patch of greenspace, we made no effort to block out the external world or the public atmosphere of failures and bailouts, the sense of crisis in the air. The world has always been ending, but with such folk as were gathered about us it will always begin anew. These extraordinary people, our community, had witnessed and supported our growth as we pursued our callings, and now Hawk had heard the call. Perhaps Tom, in identifying what was required of each of us, put it most simply: “Never be afraid to be great.”

Afterwards Hawk’s two families spent the remainder of the afternoon at Chanticleer Garden, followed by dinner in downtown Wayne. The day had been perfect, the weather beautiful, and finally the time came for our families to part ways. Jenifer and I decide to take “the back way,” as we often do, and here that means a passage through Valley Forge Park. But Hawk’s cries of hunger mean that we have to stop for a feeding, and Jenifer and I smile at each other as we recognize that the only stopping place is the great Arch. This stone monument is one of my favorite places, a sanctuary.

We are alone, the three of us, at this sacred spot. I think of it as the spiritual epicenter of the land, where General Washington and his men braved the harshest of winters during the Revolutionary War. At the edge of the field are the darkening trees of Wayne’s Woods, and as I collect photos Jenifer and Hawk remain at the Arch under the silent watch of the deer and a burning sky.

Darkness falls and Hawk finishes. Only it isn’t dark, not entirely. We get in the car and, guided by moon and stars, find our way home.

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Anonymous Eric said...

Great post. Almost as moving as the blessing itself.

10:50 AM  

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