by Brian Doyle
Was driving past my children’s grade school the other day and started to laugh, thinking of all the entertaining and hectic and chaotic and hilarious moments our children had enjoyed there, and I pulled over behind the school, where the muddy field and wood-chipped playground and moist basketball court and dense fringe of forest all crowd together with their edges spilling over gently so that moss marks the boundaries of the court and hawthorn trees finger the field, and I wandered around remembering stuff.
In my experience, if you wander around long enough with your reasoning software disabled, you might be plunged back thrillingly through time, and find yourself grinning as you watch your small daughter do soccer drills in the mud, and your elfin sons playing wall-ball with a ball very nearly as large as they are, and your tiny daughter swinging so high on the swings that you quietly position yourself to make the catch of a lifetime if necessary, and your headlong sons thrashing through the understory picking blackberries, and your exuberant daughter leaping from Utah to Ohio on the huge painted map of the United States on the pathway, and your grinning sons taking heroic cuts at a stationary baseball perched innocently on a tee, and your shy daughter and sons holding your right hand as you walk them up the hill to kindergarten, and bringing them their forgotten lunches, and looking all over the field and playground for lost jackets and hats and gloves and sweaters and basketballs and shin-pads, and a thousand other moments like that, all floating in the misted air over the scraggly field and along the uneven pathway and among the snowberries in the fringes of the forest.
They rocketed along on their bicycles and flung footballs and hatched conspiracies and gazed tongue-tied at girls and ran in packs and troops and gaggles. They played every sort of game most of which I will never know. They were scratched and bruised here and they sliced open their knees and elbows here and they bled here and surely they wept here and I know for a fact they laughed so helplessly here that their cheeks and stomachs hurt from laughing. There were field days and carnivals and picnics and assemblies and lines of burbling children ambling back into the school in that wonderfully motley way that lines of children move, two or three kids in cadence and then the next two gawking at a hawk and the ones behind them shoving and the next bent over tying his shoelace and the next kid trips over him and there is a pileup and the teacher at the back of the line says hey! and in a minute it will start to rain so incredibly hard that kids inside will press their faces against the windows in awe and leave perfect fading circles of their holy and magical breath.
I saw and felt and heard all these things as real and powerful and immediate and tender as the instant they happened ten years ago fifteen years twenty years ago and I wanted to weep and laugh at the same time and I had to go sit down on the swing where my daughter was swinging one minute ago twenty years ago one minute ago. The swing was rocking ever so gently when I went to sit down on it, and you might say it was the wind, or a flicker of breeze from a heron walloping by overhead, or the butterfly effect, whereby a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state, but you know and I know that my daughter had just leapt off the swing to run giggling through the tunnel of immense truck tires, and the swing still felt her slight weight, and always will.