Tonight I was at a very nice party. Kids (my daughter included) were bouncing on the trampoline, going from the hot tub to the in ground pool (this didn’t take place at my house, the closest we have to a pool is a garden hose). I hung out with my fellow parents, drinking cocktails and eating buffalo wings. We discussed all the usual noise that fills our lives, mostly work and what our kids are doing.
After hanging out by the bar in the family room, I sat on the patio by the pool, watching happy, healthy middle school kids enjoying themselves. Three stacks of boxes of cold, half eaten pizzas sat on the table next to me. Pop songs flowed from the outdoor stereo system.
Maybe it’s because I think too much, but two thoughts crossed my mind, watching kids splashing in the pool and playing keep away. First, these kids have no idea how good they have it. Not to say none of them have had any hardship in their lives, but life is good here in this corner of the world.
None of these kids had to stop school to work to support their families. They don’t have to worry about being shot by stray bullets fired by drug dealers. None of them are in hospital beds, fighting for their lives. They’re not living on the streets, inhaling glue or gasoline fumes to get high, or selling their bodies to pedophiles. Maybe making the top cheer leading team, or the travel soccer team, is their top concern.
How do our kids enjoy the fruits of our labor, but at the same time, understand how good they have it? I know some people who’ve earned great professional and financial success. But the families of some of the most @#$^&ed up kids I knew in college had plenty of money. How do we stop that from happening? We want our kids to be happy and have things we didn’t have as kids, but they also have to be prepared for a world that routinely chews people up and spits them out.
Do we play the cancer card, and show them Alex’s Lemonade Stand poster children? Tell them about how hard their grandparents and great grandparents worked? Volunteer their time at a soup kitchen? Make them do lots of chores? Make them work as soon as they’re old enough?
Tomorrow is Father’s Day, another Hallmark Holiday on the calendar. It doesn’t take much to make me think of my brother, Bart. He was 46 when he died of cancer, leaving behind a wife of 20 years and three sons. Bart would’ve fit right in at the party. I could see him sitting next to me, with a half warm beer in his hand, Red Sox hat perched on his head (the head with so much more hair on it than mine). His youngest son, Brian, would’ve fit right in, too, among the kids.
The second thought that struck me tonight was how unfair Bart’s death was (Though how many deaths are “fair”?). Why am I here, hanging out on a beautiful night, with plenty of pizza and an open bar at my disposal, while my brother is now more than four years dead? I had my own tangle with cancer, and at one point was told I was terminally ill (I’ve been in remission for eight years now). Why didn’t I die, and Bart survive? He had four people depending on him, I only had my wife and daughter. Do the math, it should’ve been me.
But it wasn’t. Maybe I’m like one of those kids splashing around in the pool. Do I know how good I have it? Dwelling on dark, unsolvable mysteries of life won’t bring Bart back, and it certainly isn’t brightening my mood. Should I just fill my life with the usual, meaningless noise of life, and spend more time at the open bar? Should I just enjoy all that I can, and flush all the memories of cancer, and of my brother’s death, out of me like a case of food poisoning? No. I can only appreciate the sweet taste of the present if the bitter bite of the past still lingers in the back of my throat.