October 30, 2009
There's excitement here, and there's nervousness. The other two authors on my panel are best-sellers, after all, and I'm usually somewhat unconvinced of my authorial worth even on a good day. But I'm also looking forward to meeting them and especially to the panel. We're all three fathers with broken kids, and we've all dealt with that role in wildly different ways, but there are similar threads running through all our stories. I think it's going to be an interesting discussion.
Through all the book fanciness and all the advocacy opportunities and the speeches, and in every simple and complicated and euphoric and sad aspect of my world, at the center of it all sits Schuyler. She's the reason for it all. When everything else has faded and gone, there she'll be.
We went to see Tibetan monks as they built a Mandala sand painting in Dallas recently, and I explained the concept of impermanence to Schuyler. She seemed to get it, how nothing lasts forever, how my father grew old (sort of) and died, and how one day Julie and I would as well. She didn't like that at first, but when I also pointed out how one day she would grow old and die, too, and so would HER kids, Schuyler seemed weirdly comforted. I got the sense that on some level, she really got it, she connected with something bigger than us all.
We took Schuyler to see the Amelia Earhart movie, which, I must point out first and foremost, was not a very good film. But it looked beautiful and it hit most of the important big events in a way that Schuyler could grasp, and so for a nine-year-old with an interest in the subject, it wasn't bad. One of the few parts of the film that was really compelling was the very ending. (SPOILER: She disappears, probably as fish food.) We talked at length about that after we left the movie.
"What happened to her?" asked Schuyler. "Did she die?" She accompanied this with her self-created sign language for dying.
Julie and I looked at each other as if to weigh exactly how to answer this, but the thing is, Schuyler already knew that Earhart had disappeared. She did a report on her last year. That answer wasn't very satisfactory to her, however, and she wanted more from us.
"Yeah," I said, just putting it out there for her. "She probably crashed her plane and died. That's really sad, isn't it?" Schuyler nodded, clearly not liking where the discussion had gone.
"But here's the thing," I said. "Amelia Earhart died doing the thing that she wanted to do more than anything else in the world. She wanted to fly airplanes, right? And I'll bet that if you could ask her how she would have wanted to go, she would have said that she wanted to die flying her airplane, doing the thing she loved the most."
She turned this over in her head for a few moments and then nodded. "Yeah," she said.
"The cool thing about Amelia Earhart was that she wanted to be a pilot and fly airplanes, and she made that dream come true. I like that she's your hero, because that's what you're going to do, too. Whatever you decide you want to do, you're going to make it happen. I know that."
Schuyler liked that answer. Well, I like it, too.