Heartwrenching Washington Post story profiling Mark and Jackie Barden, parents to Daniel Barden, 7, who was one of 20 children killed in Newtown, CT last December. I still can't believe this happened. Stories like this serve as reminders that we cannot forget.
The following scene -- the dialogue with the parents' thoughtful explanations for enrolling their son in school one year later -- broke me:
They drove nine miles outside of town to a small diner that a friend had once recommended. They had never been before. There were no memories here. A waitress led them to a booth by the window and handed over menus. “Perfect,” Mark said. The coffee tasted good. The restaurant was empty. They were the first customers of the day. The campy decor reminded Mark of a place he had liked in Nashville. “Pretty fun vibe,” he said. “I’m thinking about treating myself to the eggs Benedict,” Jackie said. “Yum,” Mark said.
Now another car pulled into the restaurant lot, carrying the second customers of the day, and out of all the people in central Connecticut, and all of the possible places and times for them to eat, these were two whom the Bardens recognized: a mother and her young son, who had been Daniel’s classmate in kindergarten.
“Do you remember the Bardens?” the mother asked her son, bringing him over to their booth.
“Hi!” the boy said, sitting down at the table next to them.
“Let’s let them enjoy their breakfast,” the mother told her son, sensing the awkwardness of the moment, pointing him to another table in the corner of the restaurant. She turned back to the Bardens: “I’m sorry. He’s excited. It’s his birthday.”
“Oh wow,” Jackie said.
“So nice,” Mark said.
“Seven,” the mother said, following her son to the other table.
“Should we leave?” Jackie said, whispering to Mark, once the mother was out of earshot. “Would it be easier?”
“It might be,” Mark said.
But instead they sat at the table and watched as the waiter brought the boy a gigantic waffle covered in powdered sugar, berries and whipped cream. They watched as the waiter stuck a candle into the center of that waffle, and as the mother sang “Happy Birthday” and took a picture with her phone. They watched as the boy swept his fingers through the whipped cream, smearing it across his mouth and face while his mother laughed. “You’re so silly,” she said.
This boy, who had ended up in the other first-grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary.
This boy, who had hidden in the other bathroom.
“Oh God,” Jackie said, shoulders trembling, questions and doubts tumbling out as she tried to catch her breath. “Why did we wait to enroll him in school?” she said. “He could have started a year earlier. He could have been in second grade. He was old enough.”
“We were thinking about what was best for him,” Mark said, knowing the cycle that was starting, the blame, the need for absolution. “We wanted him to be one of the oldest.”
“So he would be a leader and not a follower,” Jackie said, nodding.
“So he would be confident,” Mark said.
“So he wouldn’t be last to get his driver’s license,” she said.
They sat at the booth and thought about Daniel at 16. The coffee had gone cold. The eggs sat on their plates. The boy and his mother stood up to leave, walking past their table. “We had to eat in a hurry today,” the mother said. She explained that her son’s name and birth date were going to be read over the loudspeaker during the morning announcements at school, and he wanted to be there in time to hear it.
“Take care,” the mother told them.
“Bye!” the boy said, and Mark and Jackie watched as he ran to the parking lot.
June 09, 2013
June 07, 2013
The Dharma Bums
By Jack Kerouac
"While he snored I woke up and just lay flat back with my eyes to the stars and thanked God I'd come on this mountain climb. My legs felt better, my whole body felt strong. The crack of the dying logs was like Japhy making little comments on my happiness. I looked at him, his head was buried way under inside his duck-down bag. His little huddled form was the only thing I could see for miles of darkness that was so packed and concentrated with eager desire to be good. I thought, "What a strange thing is man ... like in the Bible it says, Who knoweth the spirit of man that looketh upward? This poor kid ten years younger than I am is making me look like a fool forgetting all the ideals and joys I knew before, in my recent years of drinking and disappointment, what does he care if he hasn't got any money: he doesn't need any money, all he needs is his rucksack with those little plastic bags of dried food and a good pair of shoes and off he goes and enjoys the privileges of a millionaire in surroundings like this. And what gouty millionaire could get up this rock anyhow? It took us all day to climb." And I promised myself that I would begin a new life." (p. 77)
There was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I'd lived before and walked this trail.
By Jack Kerouac
Excerpt from chapter 9, which I thought was pretty perfect from beginning to end. It also marks the point in the book where I started to actually pay attention.
"We went on, and I was immensely pleased with the way the trail had a kind of immortal look to it, in the early afternoon now, the way the side of the grassy hill seemed to be clouded with ancient gold dust and the bugs flipped over rocks and the wind sighed in shimmering dances over the hot rocks, and the way the trail would suddenly come into a cool shady part with big trees overhead, and here the light deeper. And the way the lake below us soon became a toy lake with those black well holes perfectly visible still, and the giant cloud shadows on the lake, and the tragic little road winding away where poor Morley was walking back.
"Can you see Morl down back there?"
Japhy took a long look. "I see a little cloud of dust, maybe that's him comin back already." But it seemed that I had seen the ancient afternoon of that trail, from meadow rocks and lupine posies, to sudden revisits with the roaring stream with its splashed snag bridges and undersea greennesses, there was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I'd lived before and walked this trail, under similar circumstances with a fellow Bodhisattva, but maybe on a more important journey, I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling." (p. 61-2)
June 02, 2013
Here is New York
By E.B. White
"New York is the concentrate of art and commerce and sport and religion and entertainment and finance, bringing to a single compact arena the gladiator, the evangelist, the promoter, the actor, the trader and the merchant. It carries on its lapel the unexpungeable odor of the long past, so that no matter where you sit in New York you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds, of queer people and events and undertakings." (p. 19-20)
"A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive." (p. 29)
"The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition." (p. 54)
"A block or two west of the new City of Man in Turtle Bay there is an old willow tree that presides over an interior garden. It is a battered tree, long suffering and much climbed, held together by strands of wire but beloved of those who know it. In a way it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun. Whenever I look at it nowadays, and feel the cold shadow of the planes, I think: "This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree." If it were to go, all would go--this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death." (p. 56)