Monday, August 17, 2009

Pablo's Friends

Pablo with Opal, Henry and Natalia in New Orleans

In these tender times, the sight of a child in the store, or an interaction between a parent and kid in public, or a baby crying over the standard things that babies cry over can bring Jo Ann and I to a state where we yearn for an emotional rescue. In Paris, we sat in a sidewalk cafe and observed an American family at the table in front of us. The son, around eight or nine, begged the father to hold him in his lap. The dad pushed him away and coldly ignored him. The boy cried and screamed and the more he did it the more intently his father pushed him away.

I don't know the circumstance that that family was in, and my purpose in recounting this scene is not to judge. For all I know, they were rehearsing a scene for their church play. What I do know is what I saw brought tears to my eyes and made me miss Pablo in a very specific way. I wanted to run over and hug that little boy and let him sit in my lap. What I'd do to lavish affection on my own little boy. We never withheld from Pablo. Ever. If anything, he'd get sick of me hugging him and holding his hand and doting on him. We were all that way with Pablo. It was kind of impossible not to be. Pablo was a love magnet. People expressed their love to him constantly. He was a powerful little dude.

I'm also emotional when we're simply hanging with Pablo's friends and their parents. Seeing Pablo's friends in the midst of summer fun and tans and ice creams and growth spurts is incredibly powerful for us. Normally, I'd use the word 'hard,' but I'm sick of using that word and words like it. Hard doesn't aptly describe it. There's a rush of energy in these instances. That's power. Hard, to me, relates to something inert. If I'm going to be of any use to anybody, I have to describe things accurately. I feel like I'm being boiled alive. That's not 'hard.'

Seeing Anne and Neal's kids Henry and Natalia, and their little boy Owen, who Pablo never met, this weekend in New Hampshire was wonderful. Pablo grew up Playing with Henry and Natalia. Every Christmas in New Orleans, every spring break at the beach in Florida, and when they'd come to LA to visit. Every time we've ever seen them we've seen Pablo. Every time they've ever seen us, they've seen Pablo. I was shocked when they walked in the door Friday and ran right past us. Shocked because Pablo's friends always give me a hug, or at least say Hi. How foolish of me—shortsighted—to not remember that Pablo was not standing next to me when they came to the door. As he always had been. So why would two little kids, six and nine, stop to say hello to an unattached adult?

Being a parent, I know how that works. Henry and Natalia were just being kids. That's the only thing they are supposed to be. Neal and I talked about this on our ride Saturday. I told him how jarring it was for me. He understood. We volleyed back and forth about this as we spun our way up hill after hill. As we pecked our way through this fine grain of post-Pablo experience, I knew I'd make a better effort when we all parted ways on Sunday. As the adult in the situation, that's my end of the deal.

When we parted ways earlier today, I made a point to kneel down and give Natalia and Owen goodbye hugs. I couldn't just hug Henry. Being a boy Pablo's age, he and Pablo had a special bond. I grabbed Henry and held him in my arms and held him. He is the exact size of Pablo. I wished him a good time on his year in Cambridge, where Neal is starting a fellowship next month. I hugged him. I plopped him down on his feet, the way I always did with my own son, his twice-a-year playmate. Henry smiled as his feet touched the ground.

There are many new things, many firsts, in our lives today. Our experience of seeing Henry and Natalia for the first time since Pablo's death is now behind us. This stuff takes practice, and mindfulness. That was the key to this episode.

As we pulled out of the driveway, I remembered a killer photo I'd taken of Pablo, Henry, Natalia and our niece Opal. It was a magical shot taken December 17 2007 in Uptown New Orleans, on the St Charles Avenue street car tracks. We'd taken a street car ride, and as the kids got off at our stop, they started jumping up and down. It was a game they'd made up. Pablo was always well into simple games like that. I was quick with the camera and got my shot—two actually—of this activity in action. For a long time, this picture was the desktop photo on my Blackberry. Back then, I never imagined the fun with Pablo would ever end.


Haley said...

Those are very beautiful pictures. You can just see the life coming out of all the happy over something so small. That is what makes kids so amazing. Thank you for sharing them with us.

A Forever Dad said...

I have tears running down my face, as I read your powerful and raw words. You have such a beautiful way of expressing the pain that you feel now. I nod my head as I read your words, I only wish I was as brave to write something as similar regarding my own child. I love the pictures of Pablo and friends in New Orleans. I immediately recognized it as Uptown, on St. Charles, as I spent many a year in NOLA.
Those photos capture Pablo's fun and joyful spirit. He will always be so full of joy. I wish I could bring him back to you. I really do. Just like I wish I could bring my own son back. Cancer sucks.

Binkytowne said...

Joanne & Jeff, I have a friend who blogs, her name is Heather Sphor. She also lives in the LA area. She also lost a child this year. The circumstances are not the same as your family, but she also writes about it with honesty and truth and beauty.

If you ever are looking for another voice who is signing a similar melody, I'm leaving the link here. I hope that's OK. Her blog is:

Thinking of you and hoping your re-entry this week is a peaceful one.

Kevin said...

Have you ever read the Fat Cyclist's blog?

He loves to ride bikes like you, and raises tons of money for Lance Armstrong. His wife lost her battle with breast cancer a few weeks ago. You might find a lot in common with him. He writes beautifully as well, and not just about his wife's battle, but lots about cycling and Lance, etc. Maybe you can collaborate with him on a cycling fundraiser? I am sure he would be open to it.