Once during a brief visit home while I was on a particularly travel-filled and arduous university lecture tour in 2014, my granddaughter Lucy (then 5) asked me plaintively, “Ba, but why are you traveling so much?”
“To sell my latest book,” I said. “I earn my living as a writer.”
She thought about this for a few moments and then stated emphatically, “Ba, you should write less!”
It seems to me that Lucy had already gotten one thing right: she intuitively knew that our human connections are sweeter and more important than any career. And because I was sixty-two at the time, and because I’d learned a few new priorities when my Marine John (Lucy’s dad) went to war, and because I wasn’t any longer a striving twenty-something, by then I understood she was correct: a job is just a job but my children and my grandchildren are a vocation that replenishes my soul.
No matter whether we are married, black, brown or white, single, gay, heterosexual, bisexual or transsexual, atheist or religious, when we meet a young child after preschool, school or daycare and get down on our knees at eye-level as they run into our arms, we all—of whatever diverse background, race and persuasion—understand each other perfectly. The child we’re meeting touches the core of our being. Every mother and father delights in the pint-sized human shouting, “Hi, Mommy!” or “Hi Daddy!” These days the shouted greeting that makes my heart skip is “Hi, Ba!” from my youngest grandchildren. No matter who we are our shared experience of vulnerability erases the differences between us. We share a fearful solidarity; the flip side of love. If anything awful were to happen to the child clambering into our arms, the universe as we know it would end.
What I’ve learned from the experiences offered by life in general, and by fatherhood and grandparenthood in particular, boils down to two interconnected hunches. The first hunch is this: I believe in the intrinsic worth of beauty. Our craving for beauty is deeply rooted. Our innate connection with other life forms means we long for inspiration from the natural world. And this affiliation helps define our aesthetic preferences— we gravitate toward environments that combine features rooted in our evolutionary past. These preferences, for instance for living near a body of water or for looking down at our surroundings from a safe height, are rooted in our biological history and transcend culture, choice, politics, religion and philosophy. We describe habitats we like to live in as beautiful.
My second hunch is this: in the quest to pass on what’s best to our children and grandchildren (and thus, as it were, save the world), we need allies. We can’t succeed alone. We need community. These allies may be found by meeting another mother or father in a car pool, in a chance encounter on a plane or discovered in a historical figure — say an artist or writer — who lived 500 or 1000 years ago who nevertheless becomes a close friend and guide.
Titles of the current Series I’m working on as seen in the video:
On the Day the World Ended God Inexplicably Only Raptured All the Pinocchio Dolls to Heaven along with Many Pink Cyclamens but Left behind All the Christians
When the Manna Ran out God Inexplicably Began Dropping Cyclamens, Old Teddy Bears and Champagne on the People of Israel and Unintentionally Killed Moses with a Good Bottle of California Chandon
On Inauguration Day 2017 God Tried to Punish Donald Trump by Showering Him with French Carbon Steel Knives, Pinocchio Dolls, Assorted Rubber Ducks and Pink Cyclamens but Inexplicably in a Fit of Gross Divine Incompetence Missed Trump by Miles and Crippled an American Evangelical Tourist Visiting the Wailing Wall in Israel as She Posed for a Picture
The Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Reveal themselves to be Three Old Teddy Bears and Bring a Rubber Stamp with Them to Replace the Bible about Which They Now Have Doubts. They Also Bring Champagne, Rubber Ducks, and a Shower of Cyclamens
Pinocchio Proposes Marriage to Himself While God Tries To Kill This Pathological Liar with A Blizzard of Art Materials, Teddy Bears, Martini Glasses and Pink Cyclamen and Fails