To Arthur, On His First Birthday

My dear son, my baby, you have now turned one year old.  In keeping with my habit of writing letters to my children on their birthdays, I offer this first letter to you.  Because you cannot read or even recognize alphabetic characters, I acknowledge that this letter is more for my own sake.  But I hope that you will read this someday and that I am still around for us to talk about it.  For now, I wholeheartedly celebrate your first trip around the sun.

Shortly after you were born, astronomers and other scientists measured, for the first time, the spin of an exoplanet.  They found that a day on this distended and far-flung planet lasts only eight hours.  We already knew that years on other planets in our own system have variable years.  Mars, 687 days--Earth-length days, that is.  Mercury, 88 days.  In such a cosmic context, you would be tempted to think that your year is an arbitrary calculation of ellipses and trigonometry.  

But in that time, buds of copper hair have emerged from your oversized head.  Teeth have pierced through your gums.  You have learned to climb stairs and also what happens when you fall down them.  And you have talked to yourself in ways that only you really understand (but that we pretend to know exactly what you are saying).  You seemed to never stopped smiling; it is hard to remember a night of crying or a fit of tears.  But, most of all, your hydrangea-blue eyes have opened wider and wider.

You were born in a time where the “struggle for existence”  seems to be the “struggle of existence.”  The week before your birth, two inches of snow brought Atlanta to its knees.  Children did not make it home from school that day, and parents did not return from their jobs.  I was fortunate to have worked from home that day.  But as the roads clogged with abandoned vehicles, it became clear that we would not make it to a hospital if you were to arrive.  Being ill-equipped for this adventure, I watched instructional videos about delivering babies in the home.  To be sure, there are some things you cannot “un-see.”  And, fortunately for you and your mother, the birthing sequence did not begin until after the roads had cleared.

We are lucky to live in a time and place where a long night after some snow is the type of occurrence that is a major “catastrophe” experienced for the calendar year.  It is easy to close your eyes, to shut them tight, and forget the very real push made by the inhabitants of this planet for survival against insurmountable odds.  Instead, you could be tickled by the fecundity of distractions seemingly designed to entertain you until your demise.  No one would blame you, but you would miss the most painful--and most meaningful--part of being human.  The gift of sweetness in our mortality.

In your birth, your mother and I set a clock, a timer, in motion.  There is a period of time (currently measured in Earth years but no one knows how long) during which you may choose to open your eyes.  The tincture of what you see will change as you change, but, make no mistake about it, it will likely be terrifying, even overwhelming.  You will see people do unspeakable things to other people, and there will be destruction and devastation from unseen hands.  The best among us will often fall the hardest.  There will be very little you will be able to control and even less that you will want to actually exert control over.  And in the end, you will find that all of your assumed power was complete impotence anyway.

Your nature will invite you to flinch and encapsulate yourself in a bizarre effort to transcend your lot.  But I invite you to keep your eyes open.  To not rely on injustice being made right in another world.  To not pretend that the world is manageable.  To not punch shadows for the assurance of your own value and righteousness.  To not expect a quick fix, apotheosis, or enlightenment.  And to not get your hopes up.

If you choose to see, your life will not escape you, and you will find, in the middle of this biological struggle, that simple beauty and moment and exploration and here and now are not only the best this life has to offer but that they are supremely better than the cheap imitations meant to distract you through your existence.

And that is the birthday gift to you: that you have a brief window of time to look around and see.  And I hope you will and that your mother and I can help you to do so, even as we look at the beauty, richness, and meaning that you give to our lives.  Your first year was anything but an arbitrary passing of time; it was filled with wonder.

Happy birthday, Arthur.

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