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August 11, 2007

The Sense of Life

It was the smell of Lewis's The Screwtape Letters that sparked the melange of associations between memory and present day. That, and the scent of grass and sunshine as my daughters climbed the hammock around me, pretending it to be the rigging of a pirate ship. I worried that they climbed too far toward the hammock's hooks, where the ropes all come to a point, and yet, I recalled that my favorite challenge, when my parents would bring me to the Renaissance Festival in New York State, was to climb the rope ladder in an attempt to ring a bell and win the prize. My daughters contented themselves with banging the chain against the metal supports. On what grounds could I fear for them?

My other favorite game at the Festival was swooping down a steeply hung rope riding a plastic horse, jousting lance in hand and aimed at a ring that hung above the bottom of the arc. I don't recall what safety precautions were taken (it was, after all, before the day of the consumer-lawyer dependency pact), but my mother must have held her breath with each pass.

This week marks our very first event related to our eldest daughter's schooling. Off she'll go, her life now proceeding through settings over which we, her parents, have only indirect control. I've none of the predicted sadness, but more than my share of the apprehension.

The specific odors of Screwtape that jarred my memory working were of the adhesive and the paper. which are similar to those of the programs through which I thumbed when my sleep-away piano camp in Bennington, Vermont, would bring us to ballet performances at Saratoga or classical concerts at Tanglewood. I was eleven when my parents first dropped me at the camp's door, and I wonder now, a father myself, whether I'll have the courage (and, yes, the trust) to let my little ones stroll so freely through the world.

As the girls climbed over me in their pirate games, I saw myself so prominently in them that I realized that they are not made precious by those reflections of their parents, but by their autonomous existence. They are their own selves, in God's narrative, and perhaps the best parents can hope to control is whether they grow up with the comfort that life indeed involves magic or they are prematurely burdened with the sense that there is no meaning to it at all.

For all my fantasies about how my own adult life will turn out, the conclusion is unavoidable that they will find more magic climbing about the world's rigging on their own than weaving imaginary baskets under the watchful eye of their father.

Posted by Justin Katz at August 11, 2007 7:36 PM