Regrets, Hassles, Pride, Bridges

Regrets, Hassles, Pride, Bridges

It’s four-thirty in the morning in a Denny’s at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. My wife Annie and our fifteen-year-old Zeke are catching up on lost sleep in the Holiday Inn upstairs. I’m not one to linger in bed. No matter where I am, no matter when I closed my eyes, I'm up at four a.m. at the latest.

We’re here for the graduation of our older son, Ariel, from UC Berkeley. It’s a two-phase affair. Due to mishaps involving cars, airplanes, airport security, storms, and a motel, we missed Phase One, the philosophy department ceremony, yesterday.

Needless to say, Ariel was disappointed and we were mortified. Not only did our son want us to share his moment of recognition, he was excited about the opportunity for us to meet and chat with his professors. These men are giants of the intellectual universe in which Ariel has taken up residence. He regards them as mentors or gurus.

My stepmother Fran and my father, Ariel’s 82-year-old grandfather, stood in for Annie and me. Ariel hadn’t seen them in some time, and had spent little time alone with them during the last few years due to the fact that they live in Los Angeles, Ariel has been living in Northern California, and we live in Pittsburgh.

My father, a retired cardiologist, still works out every day and appears to be in good health. But his hearing is going, he can’t walk too fast, and he now speaks in measured, soft, gravelly tones.

After the philosophy department ceremony, he and Fran enjoyed a celebratory lunch with Ariel and a number of Ariel’s friends from the Berkeley Bayit. By the time Annie, Zeke, and I finally showed up, laden with suitcases and fatigue, they had experienced a moment together that Ariel will ever forget.

“What happened?” I asked over a glass of Sierra Nevada beer in the  International Students’ House, late last night.

“Nothing in particular,” Ariel told me. “Except, they were there.” He smiled, tears in his eyes, and I understood. Maybe it was better, after all, that we were delayed.

Although Annie, Zeke, and I were exhausted, a gust of adrenaline filled our sails and blew us through the social events Ariel had planned, late into the night. The fog of travel anxiety and regret dissipated.

While Ariel had been experiencing his reunion with my father and Fran, Annie and I had gone through something similar with our younger son, Zeke. Zeke’s fifteen-year-old world is filled with music, friends, and homework (in that order). His parents are a distant moon hanging in the sky of that world, providing a glimmer of illumination when the path grows dark. We exchange hugs, meals, and important news about grades and book reviews, but Zeke usually keeps his private life private.

The night before last, in our motel room in Atlanta, we tried to sleep, knowing we had only had five hours before we had to catch the shuttle back to the airport. But Zeke had begun talking with us on the plane. The conversation remained unfinished.

Zeke is worried about a friend who seems to be getting into drugs. I often marvel at the love he feels for his friends, but when their lives are not going well, he suffers as much as they. In our little motel room, Zeke turned to us for advice.

We weren’t able to offer much, except to say that we too have seen friends make bad decisions. We too have stood by, impotent, as they refused to take our counsel. Although Zeke’s news was depressing, the fact that he felt comfortable sharing it with us meant a great deal to all three of us.

Phase Two of Ariel’s graduation, the university-wide ceremony, is today. I can hardly wait to see Ariel shake the chancellor’s hand and receive his diploma. We’ve arranged to meet one of Ariel’s professors afterwards, the man to whom Ariel feels he owes the most.

In a perfectly rational world, no one – least of all, a struggling writer whose first novel will appear on the market in two days – would fly 2,700 miles, crawl across the Bay Bridge in head-to-tail traffic, and voluntarily submit to a pummeling from the gods of anxiety, just to watch someone else receive a piece of paper from a stranger. I don’t live in that world. It’s not just about that piece of paper, after all. Nor is it about vehicles or fatigue. It’s about everything else that happens on the way.