On My Own Salvation
And Why Dostoevsky Was Only Half Right
I’ve thought about this quote and my own childhood a lot in recent years, because that appears to be what you do as the years pass. You look back on the road traveled and you take stock of where you are and how far you have come. With each year that falls behind me, I find myself doing this more and more.
I admit with no hesitation that I have had a blessed life to date, and if Dostoevsky is right, it is surely due to the summers of my youth. I’ve carried into my adult life a treasure trove of memories from those times. Summer days back then meant long bike rides around town, Whiffle Ball and pickle games with friends from the neighborhood, and even fights with snowballs gathered from winter storms and stored in freezers during the intervening months. Summer nights meant kick-the-can games, flashlight tag, and talking under the moonlight with friends about our dreams for someday. Back then, we also had the freedoms each day to come and go as we pleased, to explore, and to grow. We were bound only by that inevitable call through the darkness to come home.
I would trade those times for nothing.
But those days and nights were long ago, and I worry now about the memories my own children will take with them into adulthood. Each generation, it is said, is supposed to stand on the shoulders of the one before it. They are to eclipse the triumphs of the prior generation, yet I fear my children’s memories will not be as abundant as mine.
Each of our family’s days, it seems, is a race to the finish. By the time some combination of school, homework, practices, errands, and chores is completed, we are all too exhausted to do anything but sleep. Adding to the many worries that I as a father have is that when the kids do have free time and they want to play with me, I offer too many explanations that now is not the right time. The yard must be mowed. The dishes must be done. I’ve got work to do. My promises of “tomorrow” are starting to ring hollow even to me.
In my frequent taking stock I cannot help but worry about the memories my children will have. I worry that I am failing as a father to provide them with the most magical childhoods possible.
But then I find myself at Bald Head Island, off the coast of North Carolina, at the start of our family’s annual beach trip. This beach is not like the beaches of my youth in any respect. I remember water slides, jungle golf, and amusement parks, each of which produced so many great times and happy memories for me. Bald Head has none of these. Cars are not even allowed here. The island is, I believe, the perfect break from days that are races to the finish.
I have been coming here since 1994, just after I graduated college, and I introduced my fiancee to this place in 1998. The years since have blessed us with a wonderful marriage and three remarkably beautiful children, each of whom first dipped their toes in the Atlantic here as infants.
Now ten, eight, and five, our kids are here with their cousins, and the weather is not cooperating. During what looked like a break in the wind and rain we made a break for the beach. Within minutes of entering the surf, however, the rains came again.
My first instinct is to run, to climb the steps over the dune, and to hurry over the boardwalk back to our cottage. The kids must sense the irony of trying not to get wet when freshly broken waves are rushing past their ankles, because they stay. They splash. They laugh. They dance.
Me? I choose to watch and smile. I begin to think that my children will remember this moment forever, and this is when my worries end.
I realize that Dostoevsky was only half right. This moment, when my children dance in the surf with raindrops falling over them, may indeed be an instrument of their salvation one day. But as a father who has worried about the childhoods my kids are having, this moment is most surely an instrument of mine.
A special thanks to the folks at Bald Head Island, who ran a copy of this in the 2014 Haven magazine. You can check that out HERE.