O P I N I O N
I’m sitting alone on a park bench in a corner of the playground watching my daughter playing with a handful of other kids, feeling, I don’t know, melancholy?
It’s fine. Everything is fine. Today will mark one of the last truly hot days of the summer and the warmth feels good on my face. We’re close enough to the lake that a slight breeze keeps the insects at bay. Little Bean is happy. I look up now and again when she laughs or shouts.
This all is as it should be. This all is, in fact, how I often write that life should be. Small miracles. Daily comfort. A cool drink of water. Children on a slide. Perfect weather.
And yet… and yet.
Little Bean slides onto the bench next to me, out of breath, hair a ragged tussle. “Water, Daddy, I need water!”
She pulls deeply on the water bottle I brought with us.
“You good?” I ask.
She nods, pointing the kids out near a jungle gym. ‘We’re going to see who can swing all the way over without letting go.”
“Ok, be careful,” I say, but she’s already on the run, her back to me, my words unable to catch up.
I turn to my phone, but can’t find a signal. So, I turn to a daily meditation. I’ve always found melancholy to be the most difficult form of sadness; vague, undefined, a whispering voice of unease, like digging in sand.
I try a form of conscious breathing. The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a four-breath routine, in and out four times while repeating a common mantra: Breathing in, I calm my body / Breathing out I smile / Dwelling in the present moment / I know this is a wonderful moment.
I get maybe halfway through. That sounds dumb in my head. I switch up the mantra: The lake breeze calms my mind / My daughter is happy / I have nowhere to be / I know that I’m healthy.
Ugh. Just ugh.
Little Bean appears to be in a huddle with a group of kids, four or five of them standing in a circle, heads down, planning something. After a few moments, they all let out a yell and scatter in different directions. Some sort of hide-and-seek, or tag. Both? There was a time not long ago when she needed me to be there when she hit those bars or the slide or the maze. Is that what I’m feeling?
I give a new mantra a whirl: My daughter is growing / She is her own person / I’ll always be her dad / I have nothing to fear.
That feels a little better, but it’s not there yet.
“I can’t do it!” My daughter is shouting from the playground. I look up to discover her hanging nearly upside down from one of the metal spider web domes, vainly trying to right herself. But before I can leap up, two other kids come over and boost her up. Crisis averted. My services, unneeded.
Let it go, I think. How much of this is in my hands anyway? Surrender.
I switch tactics: The water smells like rotten crabs / The sun burns my skin / My daughter doesn’t need me / The universe is too vast to comprehend.
I suck that in deeply. I feel it in my bones. Surrender works, feels right. This is a mantra I can get behind.
“Daddy,” my daughter asks. She’s suddenly standing in front of me. “I’m ready to go home I think.”
We pack up our snacks and water and begin the walk back to the car.
“You hungry?” I ask.
“Junk food, wanna get some Munchkins?”
We eat terrible food all the way home. The Earth spins. The wind blows. My daughter is who she is, as we all are.
I pull in a deep, long breath and hold it. I hold it till my lungs feel like bursting. I hold it till I can’t anymore.
And as I finally let out that breath, I say out loud, “The universe doesn’t care, but I do.”
The melancholy remains. Let it.