The other night Rebecca and I ran into Greg and Kristin Conway, two Suffieldians who, as owners of a pre-school in town, observed our kids grow from toddlers to teens, and, in the case of our son, boy to man. I hadn’t seen them in probably five years.
They offered their condolences for the passing of our son, Caleb, who died a year ago August 28. “So many times, I wanted to stop by to say how sorry we were,” Greg added.
The condolences were deeply appreciated — they always are, no matter how many months have elapsed. The more time passes, the greater the absence of the one you love is felt. You project a timeline of what would’ve been, and the weight of “firsts” just crushes you – the first week, month, fall, winter, spring, summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday and, this month, year without our son.
A psychologist once told me that it wasn’t pain people feared but suffering; and suffering was pain multiplied by resistance. The more you fight the pain, the more you suffer. This therapist was counsel to those suffering the final, painful stages of cancer, and was a witness to the power of surrender.
So, when the waves of sadness surge, I let them crash. It is a strange sensation to spontaneously cry as you work, drive or watch a Marvel movie, but it is quite another thing to suddenly break down in the middle of a 10K run. Still, the emotions ebb. You gather yourself, and life goes on.
Conversely, I stopped resisting the random moments of joy. I guess in the beginning, I felt guilty for feeling good, as if I was dishonoring my son for feeling happy. The moments of sadness, though, hit so often and so hard that even a fleeting feeling of happiness offered relief. So, I let them happen.
I have been attending Red Sox games for almost 50 years, and I have never caught a foul ball. This summer, at a rainy night game at Fenway Park, one of those foul balls that soars high over the stands was hit. I tracked the ball, and I could see that it was falling towards us. I framed the ball with both hands and caught it. Hundreds of fans cheered the clean catch, and I gave the ball to my daughter Grace. A few innings later, during the New Balance Dance Off, I got my daughter to get up and groove by dancing with her. I am not a talented dancer by any stretch, but I have my moves. As I was busting those moves, my wife punched me on the shoulder — “Oh my God, you’re on the scoreboard!” I played to the crowd and double-timed my groove. A half minute later, according to the giant scoreboard, I was a Dance Off finalist. I wanted to win. I leaned into the dance, engaged my hips and threw in some facial emotions. The crowd roared. The screen flashed to my rival, and she was bringing it. It was a bona fide duel. I picked up the tempo and bobbed my head, committing completely to the rhythm, releasing all reservations and restrictions. It went back and forth several times, 34,000 fans cheering us on until the contest was settled.
And it was me.
That’s right. Your faithful Suffield observer won a Fenway Park Dance Off, and it was awesome. The $200 towards a pair of New Balance sneakers was pretty cool, too. If you’re wondering if there is video memorializing this victory, there isn’t. My wife was too stunned to reach for her phone.
A few weeks later, trying not to think about the things I always think about, I was doing the 10K loop through the center of town. I ran into John Murphy, whom I have known for 20 years, walking his dog on Main Street. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and he expressed his condolences. He asked how we were doing, and I told him everything I just told you – the whole surrender-to-whatever-feeling thing, the foul ball and winning the Dance Off. Something about that story made him say I should write about it.
And so, I have.