Over the weekend I took my sons to State College to visit their grandparents. A few months had passed since we’d last seen them, and on Saturday afternoon and evening there was an Autumn festival being held up on campus at the arboretum…Going to it has been a tradition for several years, but the previous year we’d been rained out, so we really wanted to try and make it this time.
The boys and I left Pittsburgh in the driving rain, and I felt certain it wasn’t going to work out. That was OK. I figured if all else failed, we’d simply have a quiet day hanging out with my parents.
But then, as the miles passed, the rain let up, and by the time we arrived, blue sky was visible through the shifting, dissipating gray clouds. It ended up being a beautiful Autumn day, the kind you always hope for and want to enjoy.
Even so, I felt a bit off. It had been a long week, and I was tired. More importantly, someone very close to me had suffered another in a series of health setbacks, and I’d been preoccupied with that for the last few days. So Halloween, always my favorite holiday, was feeling a bit unimportant as a result.
Nonetheless, the morning gave way to afternoon, and the afternoon to early evening. The sky, now completely clear, was a deep, brilliant blue; wide and vast the way only October skies can be. So my dad and I took the boys up to the festival as planned.
But I still just wasn’t feeling it. We went through and checked out everything: the jack o’ lantern contest, live music, apple cider and popcorn stands, the maze. Then we explored the children’s area of the arboretum: winding paths accentuated by waterfalls, streams, rock stations, artificial caves, exotic trees and plants, pumpkin patches…all the stuff that usually gave me the old thrill of the season. Even so, none of it really seemed to help much.
I don’t know exactly what it was that, toward the end, snapped me out of my funk. Maybe it was a combination of all of it: the sky, the paths and streams, the jack o’ lanterns, the scores of happy kids running around with their parents. But I think, more than anything, it was that mix, plus the fact that my kids were there, along with my dad. It took a while, but suddenly everything clicked into place.
My sons, Sam and Andy, were jumping across a stream on cement lily pads. Instead of worrying they’d fall, I went and joined them. Soon after, my dad started taking pictures. I stepped up beside him and started taking some too.
And just like that, I was far more present and far less pensive. I was standing in a Halloween-themed festival in October with my dad beside me and my kids playing around me. Who on earth cares about being tired at a time like that? And even though, no matter what we’re doing, we certainly never stop worrying and caring about the health of those we love, I was still able to appreciate all the good that particular moment had to offer.
I also thought about some of the important people in my life who have passed away. I often do that when I need to kick a bit of appreciation back into myself for all the extraordinary things I have to be grateful for. I thought of my grandfather, who died in 1988 when I was nine – Andy’s age – and how much he would have enjoyed being there with us. And of a number of other friends and family members, also gone. And of Ray Bradbury, whose favorite month was, of course, October.
Once, years ago, when I told him about some small October adventure I was going on, he said, “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be there with you. But I will be, you know. I’ll be right there.”
And so he was. And still is. They all are. In one way or another, all of my loved ones who have passed away are still very close. That late afternoon, as I stood with my father watching my sons play, I realized that I was, to some degree, their eyes and ears…A continuation of what they started, still gratefully alive. So why not celebrate, as they would?
Beyond that, I realized, My sons will never be here, at this festival, with me and their grandpa, exactly like this again. They’ll never be 9 and 11 years old again, never have weather and circumstance and family together, here and now, exactly like this, on October 12th, 2019, again. And, of course, the same was true for me and my dad. That particular sunset, those particular feelings, all of us together in just that way…it all deserved to be enjoyed. The world can be a hard place, unexpected things can happen to us, and Time is always ticking forward. A smile with genuine joy behind it is the only thing we can offer up to challenge that truth.
For the beauty of life must be appreciated, even as its difficulties must be dealt with. Acknowledging this may not cure the sick, solve all our problems, or diminish the daunting issues we all have to face…but it does give us strength – as well as a reason to use that strength.
So I smiled.
And meant it.
Great piece, Greg. Thanks for writing it and sharing it.
Love, Dad ………………….. Gary E. Miller, D.Ed. Executive Director Emeritus Penn State World Campus Tel: 814-237-9203 Cell: 814-883-3442 Blog: https://garyemiller.blogspot.com/ Open Books: http://psu.pb.unizin.org/catalog/gem7
Thanks for sharing the moment with me, Dad.