The Clock



The very word has life in it. Summer ends in -errrrrr, a laconic, nap-inducing sort of sound; winter, a bit harsher with more finality – winter is coming -; and fall, well, who the hell says autumn anyway.

But spring has that -ing, that staccato pop of hope, well, springing. So I take my daughters camping, that rite of passage that says a campfire and bedtime at dark will somehow bond us, calm our souls and make it all ok. Until we hear the raccoon at 3 am. And then I come home to what? A slaughter in a mosque in Christchurch, NZ, an Ethiopian airline crash, Nebraska underwater, politicians fighting, parents cheating, and well ok one NCAA tourney bracket. Tragedy, chaos, the next tick of the clock, and so much of it is so unnecessary.

It’s why I sit here sipping a quite late bourbon, wishing I was back at that lake, pointing out, correction, having my six-year-old pointing out the Big Dipper across an icy clear nighttime sky. It’s why tonight’s bedtime meltdown by the three-year-old just made me smile, me thinking “Scream girl scream. Get it out. Run naked down that hall, wet from bath, reeling from an injustice in your short 46 months here.”

I’ll call it coping kid. You will have more days like that.

But if I’m a wise father, a decent father, maybe we will have more nights under the stars too. 

I don’t believe in God. That’s not to say I don’t believe in the mystery, the complexity, the unknown of it all. Sitting on a dock, listening to loons while my little one snuggled in my lap, burrowing for warmth, I certainly was taken by the majesty of it all. And maybe a higher power is at work. 

Yet not one that has a tool box full of fear, or hate, or judgement. No larger power would create us, just to set us up to fail, to rage against another. I guess what I mean is I’m suspicious of the version of God, our religions, our dogmas that we have created that leads us down a path of intolerance, of division, of finding ourselves screaming, not from a long day and unwanted bath, but from some perceived slight – a slight against OUR VERSION of how it’s supposed to go.

And I look to head back to the woods.

When I was 28, I hitchhiked, and walked at times, from Seattle to Annapolis. Those that gave me rides were from every demographic a census could think up – male, female, black, white, old, young, a mom with kids, a preacher, a criminal, a couple, an immigrant – who knows maybe they were angels to guide me – but really I think they were just people.

People just like me.

I’m a white male, sort of agnostic, yet those in the mosque were just like me. The people in the plane were just like me. The people in their campsites, those shuffling to work, those slogging through stop and go traffic behind a wreck on the interstate – people just like me. Give or take. Most of us just grinders. Decent, thoughtful people trying to make a go of it while the clock ticks by.

Yet I also know that point will be lost on so many – that the urge to prove the other wrong, to lash out, to hate, to dismiss, is too strong to overcome.

So I look at the stars and I wonder what to tell my daughters as they grow up, as the clock ticks closer to the time they will have to decide how they view the world, how they view people. There will be a day when the fragments of wisdom I might possess, and they are few, but the ones I do possess are certainties, will no longer fall from my lips. Maybe from some old words in a journal…


pulp citizen, the clock, stars at night

So I’ll tell them this. Look at those stars. We came from those little points of light. The ingredients life, the elements in our cells, formed in the furnaces of the quite extraordinary universe. Those little points of light have guided our explorations, marked our locations, given rise to the idea of time, and of God. The stars do not hate, they do not judge, they do not cry out for justice from the slightest offense. Neither are they passive. They burn, they light the night, they pull others into their orbit. Much how we should be.

The muslims slaughtered in Christchurch, the passengers on the Ethiopian Airlines flight, the Dutch train, the random person fading away in the corner of an assisted living facility in any given town, the mother passing far too soon of cancer, me, you, even in time, my own children all rejoin those stars, our bodies returning their elements from whence they came, and who knows, maybe a soul finding a larger answer to a beautiful mystery.

I have to believe that. Those families that lost loved ones need to believe that.

When we look up we see both where we came from, and where we will return. And when my children gaze at the stars, many many years from now hopefully, along a dock on a moonlit night with their own children staring into the abyss, they can tell them their granddad is looking back down, quite pleased.

In the meantime, the clock ticks.

How will you spend your time?

I’m going camping. With my kids.