By John Latta
A thick fog was beginning to clear from in front of my windscreen. A little bit of light at first, then sudden bursts of clear patches. Holes appeared in it, and my headlights stopped bouncing off it and found open space. It was a fog I hadn’t even known was there. It was as if the air had slowly thickened and turned a pale, milky white over time without my noticing Then, suddenly, there it was.
There was a shock and sharpness to the clear air as it flashed by. All that I saw in the light I had seen before. There were no monsters or Biblical revelations. No omens that urged me to turn back. But it stung as if the windows were down and ice particles were whipping into the cab and cutting me.
My son is a teenager, in most ways a typical teenager. He’s a great kid. I think he’s something special and will do some terrific things in his life. He’s growing up, and more and more he’s doing things his way. We have our ups and downs, a typical family circus. We’re a family rolling through the seasons, milestones coming and going and a routine settling over us as much as routine can settle into the lives of a family with a 10th grader in the house.
Recently we were told he had to have abdominal surgery. That’s when I first noticed the fog. When doctors tell you your son needs surgery, a process begins that brings the most important things in your life into sharp relief. It wasn’t a very dangerous surgery; it had extremely high success rates and extremely low complications rates. It’s probably more dangerous when he drives my car. Has to be. But this was not something that could be thought of as part of a family routine. It loomed. It scared me. It scared his mother. Things were different. He handled it better than we did, with courage and a common-sense outlook beyond his years.
But for us, it forced a change in the routine of our everyday lives. We could see the fog now. It had gradually built up around us, a sort of numbness, a one-size-fits-all approach to our days. The getting him up in the morning and off to school, the wondering about homework and grades and who is he with this late at night and why doesn’t he answer his cell phone and my God that hair style and “don’t you have a belt for those jeans,” and the coldness on your skin when you hear a siren and he’s not home. They had all congealed into bits and pieces of the day with one week much like the last and the next. The peaks and valleys were still there and we recognized them, but they had been flattened out over time by the erosive powers of familiarity.
This was the fog we were driving through. Now he faced surgery, and I could see that while much of what we attended to every day was routine, a lot of it wasn’t. When your children are little, you read them stories and tuck them in, and those moments are always amazing to you. You look at them as they sleep and are filled with wonder.
Now I could see flashes of what was really important. So I went back into his room late at night and watched him sleep. And I realized I was spending less time with him and didn’t know it. That too many of our conversations were like time-passing exchanges between acquaintances at work. That some of those messes in his room and some of his louder friends aren’t really worth getting worked up about. How sometimes he looks like an old grainy black-and-white photograph of my father when he was little more than a teenager.
Look out your windscreen. Can you tell the important from the everyday, or is it all the same thin whiteness, one event in your life pretty much like another? Don’t wait for your tractor to start sliding off a bridge on interstate ice to figure it out. Don’t wait for someone else to make the choices for you. You know the answers. That fog out there is man made. You made it.
(P.S. The surgery was successful.)