It was Black Friday – there we were in a sea of locals getting ready to watch the annual lighting of the Christmas tree ceremony. In all the years I’ve lived in Knoxville this was my first time. Not sure why in the 14 years I’ve lived here I’ve never made it – Especially since the house is a short drive away. We parked at my folx new condo just outside the central downtown area. Taking the short walk up the hill it felt really good to be in the mild air, faint raindrops started coming down as we took our stroll though the holiday festivities. Since it was raining we hopped in The Pharmacy for one chocolate/vanilla shake to go, we share’d it. My sons are very well behaved, you can take them anywhere and they just hang out – no fuss, no problems. A new friend met up with us just before the lights went on. We stood behind the tree on Gay st – the main show was in Krutch Park, in front of the tree, but I knew getting in the crowded mix with my little dudes wouldn’t be worth it for us. We just wanted to be close and have room to breathe. As soon as the lights went on the fireworks started raging. We all jumped out of our shoes. I had no clue they did fireworks and we were directly underneath them. The volume of each ricochet reverberated between the buildings, bouncing like a metal ball with military rhythm – Valley was scared. I held my hands over his ears for the show, pulling him close to me so he knew we were ok. At one point both of my sons clung onto me like a gift that needed to be wrapped, it wasn’t scary but the tension was enough to bring our love together. I felt larger than life being their Father, hip even, solid like a rock. They are my guys, we are a family and I’m grateful I belong with them. Kids aren’t for everyone, and I get that, but I can’t imagine being able to feel what I feel with them if I wasn’t a parent.
After the ceremony we strolled to the old city for east coast style pizza pie at Davincis – super clutch food for the moment. The four of us split a large pepperoni, laughing and replaying how loud the fireworks sounded. Truth be told, I’m not much for the loud banging noises. Not sure when it started, there’s something odd about a bunch of people gathering for this type of stimulus. I’m glad we went though, it gave us a reason to be in the center of the holiday spirit – People everywhere, families in the south doing what they do.
Living in a small town has always been on my old guy to do list. I picture a small loft above a hardware store, next to the local diner where everyone knows your name. I sit in my space writing, recording music, then popping around the block to catch up on the daily hellos, maybe walking my pup, or catching a coffee with my person. I never thought of Knoxville this way until last night. It’s a small city with support so it feels bigger. While it has a real vibrancy to it, you’ll see familiar faces every time you navigate an event. Its cool, feels tight knit and communal.
Our Thanksgiving found us starting a new tradition with our family friends. We’ve known them for years, but have yet to really get into the center of each other’s lives for the holiday spirit – that all changed this year. The atmosphere was comfortable, effortless, without forcing the issue. It helps when the people you’re bonding with are interesting, bringing an equal half of the conversation coin. You can feel love-growing, friendships that go beyond the small time chatter – A genuine care for each other’s welfare, freed from any one person trying to be the center of everyone’s attention. They had never met my sons, so it was nice to finally bring such a big part of my life into the circle.
There’s a security that comes with being a parent. Yes it’s hard and can be complicated, especially as a single parent. But when I’m with them I feel the strongest aspects of my individual self. I genuinely feel strength, pride, and love. My sons give me courage to walk freely, understanding who I am, while not being afraid of anything. They make me feel human on the biggest scale. They’re so kind and loving, curious, and willing. It reminds me of the attributes I seek to master – you just live when you’re with them, no thinking, no worry, just being. Maybe its just my head coming out of the scarring that has been my last couple years – like that stabbing pain in your side while laughing, months after having pneumonia- one day its just gone. Maybe I’ve finally learned how to sit up right for the big wave – existence with balance? Doubtful. I’m not sure why I feel this way these past couple days. Its as if the long walk through the woods finally let up and I see a clearing, a next level (if you will) in all the previous work of “self” that’s been done. I have no answers, but I feel it. The last year in my life dealt so much with patience, being still, observing, and trying to figure out which instinct to run toward. I think one day you realize you can’t always take care of other people, or try to save them. At some point you have to be the center so when you turn toward others you’re a whole person – strong, ready, capable. In this moment there’s a centering, some kind of release from the mental prison I was nestled in for almost two years, a black hole the last 12 months. There is less of a weight on my chest, and my soul finally smiled for the first real time in a long time. If I didn’t believe in something greater than myself I’d say at a certain point you’re just done with worrying. Done wondering, done looking for whatever it is you think you are looking for. Thankfully, I do believe in energy greater than my own – Love on the grandest scale, God, Art – how infused as one are all powerful.
Part of me sees that my failures have been putting too much emphasis on how much I can feel from anyone else, when the whole time the context is larger – a wider lens that requires you to find the proper focus before looking. No experience is a bad one. I’m weathered from my lessons, silent still, even more laid back. Impossible to imagine the person I was before now, arriving here, and maybe it’s fleeting like so much of life can be if you narrowly see your own experience. Regardless, in this moment the presence I have prayed for, the existence I have chain smoked while starring into the dark distance of parking lots, backyards and open plains for, has shown a still shot of peace.
“Shuttering, his eyes caught a glimpse of the one he was waiting for, himself”
Of course, having my sons with me is the most obvious answer why I feel different. When they are home (with me) I can rest from wondering, rest from shame or guilt. I made myself a promise when my oldest was born, that no matter what I did in my life I wouldn’t stray from my kids – as my father did to me. The hard part is accepting that I can still keep that promise… it just won’t look the way I pictured it. The past is the past.
“We are the lab rats of our own experience”