When I decided to take six weeks off from posting novel installments, I was anticipating something of a rest. They say that a change is as good as one, so perhaps I've had one, but there's been precious little free time here.
This marks the second night that MrsDarwin and the kids are off in Cincinnati for play rehearsals, but tonight my solitary bachelorhood was broken by my father-in-law stopping by on the way back from trip to upstate New York. We had a quiet dinner, two fathers eating left overs in an empty house, and we talked. Dad has just finished reading Lord of the Rings for the first time via audiobook. He'd seen the LotR movies with his youngest kids, but never read the books, and so over the last few gift giving occasions we'd been feeding him the three volumes on audiobook.
As we talked about the books I stepped over to the library for books and showed him maps to clear up a few questions he had about where things were taking place. It was a closing of the generational gap. A number of the Tolkien books and atlases we have in our library are from his own father, who read and loved the Middle Earth long before. When Cat's grandfather died, a number of his books came to us: military history books for me, Tolkien books for both of us. The love of Tolkien had skipped a generation on that side of the family, and now we were making it whole.
I pointed out features of the familiar maps. When I was in junior high and high school I had a poster of Tolkien's map for Lord of the Rings hanging on my wall. It was a love a picked up from my own father and mother, who had met in the Mythopoeic Society -- a group for the reading and discussion of Tolkien, Lewis and Williams -- when they were in college back in the early '70s. And then books had, in turn, been one of the things that brought MrsDarwin and me together in college. Back then I re-read Lord of the Rings every year. MrsDarwin had read it once during middle school, but after a year of college with me, she went home and read it again.
Books lace through our lives. The other day I found our thirteen-year-old daughter glum and sulky. Her siblings were annoying her, and she had read all her library books. I went and pulled her a stack of books that I had loved at that age from the shelves. Go. Read. Love the books that I have loved. Even if you don't have another volume of your favorite series about wandering tribes of feral cats, you can have joy. You can share something with me. She looked at the books skeptically. You can't always count on a parent who recommends books to you. They may be trying to turn you into them. They may be recommending books with kissing in them. Can't be too careful. Still...
Upstairs that night I'd found the next oldest, who had been silent for the last few hours, buried in the final pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There's some kissing in that book, and she'd read it before. "How's it going?" I asked. There was a vague murmur. "Decided to re-read the last book?" I asked.
"No. I was just reading a bit from the middle. Then I didn't stop."
That's how it's been, lately. We're in the middle, and it doesn't stop.
I got home the last night the family was still here with me. William, eighteen months old, walked out to me, down the driveway, crowing the way that only an eighteen month old does, his hands in the air. No one is quite as glad to see you as a child that age. The mind stretches back. Recognition. You are Daddy. Yet your arrival is a surprise.
It doesn't surprise the older children when I arrive. But they begin to have interests not so far from our interests. "You left," says Sean Connery as Indiana Jones's father, "just as you were getting interesting."
They're interesting, but they haven't left yet. Haven't checked out. Haven't stopped caring.
At times, these seem like those precious, golden years before... Something.
I don't know what.
"I don't trust good times," my father used to tell me. "I'm too Irish. I believe in fate."
He's dead now. Cancer. Before sixty.
I believe in fate too. I can't trust it. But I hope. Maybe, somehow, the golden years stretch longer. I don't know how long. We don't control the sands of time. I don't know if God controls the fates now, or if He left them at their job, with their distaff, spinning the thread of history, unknowable, unaccountable, uncontrovertible.
Sometimes I tell myself that the fact that things are so good, our children are so happy, we are so in love: it can't last. Some balance of fate is being thrown off and because we're too happy, too fortunate, the quarter coming up heads time after time, it will have to turn. I'll lose my job or get some incurable disease or an asteroid will strike and destroy civilization. Somehow the happiness of these times will be too much and demand some revenge from fate. But perhaps the world doesn't hinge on us. Perhaps some universal accounting will pass us by and miss our imbalance. Perhaps these happy, golden days will stretch on and on. Perhaps we'll read our books and love our loves and spend our summer and be left in peace to see our children share our faith and loves and world. Perhaps somehow as the world surges around us we'll be the point of calm which remains stable. Perhaps we'll remain healthy and at peace with all our children. Perhaps I'll finish my novel, and my wife will revise hers, and we'll find people who want to publish them and...
No. I'm spinning some sort of wish fulfillment story, and that's never the most interesting kind.
I don't control the story in this book. I'm not the Author. All I hope, a loyal reader of these pages, is that somehow, whatever trial may lie ahead, these characters turn out well. I want the best for them. Please. A happy ending. However many trials and sufferings come between, that's the kind of ending that I like.