A Rock Home Companion On What We Want to Be When We Grow Up
Eight o’clock brings honesty in the Rock House as the boys plead for one more story or their favorite pair of pajamas. They ask for “one more minute” to play with light sabers or blasters. “But I’m not tired,” they say, while the weight of the truth drags them into their beds and under their covers. And then, they are still.
I go from bed to bed, hugging each. Ian, tells me that Mary, the mother of Jesus, eventually died. Jude says that there are snakes and spiders in the attic, but that they are good snakes and spiders. Isaac, though, draws truth from questions whispered under the whirr of the box fan.
It is January 11, 2010.
“What do you want to be when you grow up, Daddy?” he asks. Unsure, and ready to make my way downstairs, I dismissively tell him that I already have a profession—that I am grown up. He laughs. “No, I mean when you grow up,” he counters.
He’s looking for dreams and aspirations; he’s asking what could have been.
I tell him that I want to live with some people in a far away land; I want to help them build houses and farm. I want to teach them about prayer and love, and he is quick to say,
“I’ll go with you, but only if you give me a shovel because I don’t know how to build a house. But Bear Grylls can build a shelter in the ground if he has a shovel, and maybe I can help build the people shelters in the ground.”
He closes his eyes, smiling himself to sleep, maybe dreaming of building hypothetical shelters, for hypothetical people, all as a result of a father’s hypothetical grown-up occupation. And I smile, thinking of little African children singing songs and clapping hands happily as Isaac covers a hole in the ground with switchgrass thatching.
It is January 12, 2010.
I do not build houses. I work, and it is one of those days at the office. It is a day where I do not visit www.cnn.com, nor do I answer my cell phone. I work diligently, counting the hours until I make the quiet evening drive home.
I walk in the door, Isaac standing ready to tell me the news: “have you heard about the earthquake?” he asks. I have not, so he leads me into the living room where the television is streaming incomprehensible images of desperation. There are new orphans in Port Au Prince, and they are sitting upturned soil wondering whether their mothers or fathers will rescue them. Baby-holding mothers are wandering the streets looking for fresh water, trying desperately to console the inconsolable. The relief workers are arriving, but they look confused and without a plan. One says that alcohol has run low and that they are cleaning hacksaws with vodka to use as surgical instruments .
As I watch the images, I think that perhaps gardening and shelter building is not all hand holding and happy clapping. It’s calamity and disorganization. It’s unplanned relief. I look at Isaac, unsure what to say to a five year old who is seeing images like this for the first time. He looks at me intently.
“Maybe I should go get a shovel,” he says. And I nod, knowing that faith like a child is honest, indeed.
written by Seth