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Monday, April 25, 2011

Perfect Moments in Time: Father and Son, Son and Father

You know those moments when everything is going just right and you find yourself totally immersed in enjoying what life has to offer? In moments like those, nothing exists except that slice of time, that sliver of flawless amazing perfection. When the moment is over, you don't feel sad, because now you've got the memory of the moment, and that memory is something that can help sustain you through good times and bad for the remainder of your life. William Wordsworth explained this idea perfectly in Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey:

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.

We've all got a collection of these perfect moments in our heads.  The first one that comes to my mind is the birth of my son. For the first five minutes of his life, I couldn't stop crying. I wasn't sad. I was just so happy and amazed that I couldn't pay attention to anything else except how happy it made me just to look at him, and to know I helped bring this amazing life into the world.

Moments like these occur throughout our lives, but the truly perfect moments don't happen all that frequently. These moments are like sparkling stars that we can mentally and emotionally connect to form the timelines of our lives. They're always there, but there just aren't a whole lot of them. 

Last week, in the span of 26 hours, I experienced two such moments of perfection.

The first occurred on Thursday. For weeks now, my son and his friends have been going into the woods behind our house almost every afternoon after school. On Thursday, he invited me to go back there with him, just the two of us. Once we headed down the path and got away from the house, I felt like I'd been transported to another world. It was a world I was familiar with from my own childhood, but it was also a world I hadn't visited in many, many years.

My son saw the look on my face and smiled and said, "See, Dad? Isn't this place cool? You can stand and just listen and hear frogs and other things. This is a good place."

And he was right. It was a good place. It was a very good place.

We stood there for awhile taking it all in. Then the tour began. My son showed me a teepee they'd made from sticks, a plastic sandbox covering they used as a boat for the creek, and a rope they used to swing over the water. Each of the "beaches" was named after one of his friends, and he picked out one for me so that there would be a Scott Beach too.

All of this was amazing to me. I walked around in a state of perpetual joy, incredibly happy that my son was sharing his world with me. And then things got even better. We came to a tree that had fallen over the creek. Together we crawled out on the trunk of the tree until we were both positioned over the water. And then...we did absolutely nothing. We sat there, father and son, our feet dangling but not quite touching the water. We enjoyed each other's company in silence as we listened to the sound of the frogs, the trees, the water, and the quiet.

That was moment number one.

Moment number two occurred the next evening. My father is a huge Neil Young fan. He's gone to over thirty Neil Young concerts in his life, and he's got every piece of music that Neil Young has ever recorded. As a child, I grew up listening to Neil Yong because it was always playing in our house. I'd never owned any of Neil's music myself, but I'd always loved his songs because they'd always reminded me of my dad.

One thing I hadn't done that I'd wanted to do for awhile was to go to a Neil Young concert with my dad. This year, we were finally able to make that happen. My dad came into town, we drove to Durham together, and then we headed into the Durham Performing Arts Center.  As we sat in our seats waiting for the concert to begin, my dad explained the significance of everything we saw on stage. The candles. The pianos. The wooden totem. My dad knew the history behind each one, and explained it all to me.

When the lights dimmed, we clapped and yelled while watching Neil Young move to center stage. Then the concert began, and the first song Neil played was "My My, Hey, Hey." It's one of my favorite songs, and it's also one of a handful of songs that I'll always associate with my dad. As we listened, I felt goosebumps on my skin. Here I was, with my father, sharing his passion for music, and Neil had started the concert with the best possible song he could've played. It was perfect.

The rest of the concert was amazing too, but even if the concert hadn't been good, I still would've had a great time because it was a terrific father-son evening.

That was moment number two.

Later that night, the parallels between the two moments hit me. On Thursday, I was the father to my son, and he shared his world with me. On Friday, I was the son to my father, and he shared his world with me. Three generations of the Niven family, connected by two perfect moments.

It really doesn't get much better than that.  :)