Monday, April 2, 2007

The Problem With the Perfect Moment

Last week, we packed our bags, loaded the car full of kid-diverting videos and headed south for a week’s vacation at my wife’s parents’ house. My son A.J., who turned six, shares a birthday with his grandfather. (Of all the ways my wife impresses me, I don’t think anything has ever impressed me more than when she produced baby A.J. at about 11:30 p.m. on her father’s birthday—a just-in-time manufacture that delighted her father, created the lasting bond of the shared birthday between grandfather and grandchild, and finally ended a delivery that had been going on long enough.)

So we were going south to celebrate the double birthday.

I should point out that my in-laws are walking refutations of every lame joke you’ve ever heard about in-laws. I sometimes tell friends that I’m going to spend a week at my in-laws’ house and they give me this look of pity, and I have to explain that, actually, I like spending time with these people. Of course, I shouldn’t bother, because that’s the kind of confession that only makes you seem suspect. What sort of man likes hanging out with his in-laws?

The other thing that has to be said is that my in-laws live in a Perfect Community. The azaleas are pefect and the wildlife is perfect (a dolphin, an ibis, a bobcat!)and the beach is perfect. It's also almost always perfectly deserted. I remember my first visit there, walking over the boardwalk that leads over the dunes and onto the beach and actually having to stop and gape at the view. Miles of empty, gorgeous beach and the Atlantic rolling in.

A.J.’s birthday turned out to be just about perfect, too. He spent about two hours running through the surf, screaming and laughing the whole time. He seemed absolutely and without qualification, happy--in a way that maybe only a six-year-old can be. At one point, he stopped, looked at me and said, “It’s my sixth birthday and I’m at the Atlantic Ocean. Isn’t this great!”

What will stay with me was the game of catch we had out in the front yard in the late afternoon. There was dappled light and there were breezes and there was the tossing of the ball back and forth: all the stuff of bad baseball poetry. I couldn’t think of anything I would rather have been doing.

But here’s the thing about such perfect moments and (Perfect Communities, too): They make me a little nervous. There is an anxiety that accompanies such a scene, at least for me. Maybe there is a kind of pressure to feel a level of contented bliss commensurate with the perfection of the moment. Instead, having noticed how wonderful things are, you start to wonder why you don’t feel appropriately ecstatic. I think some of us are not wired to handle that kind of joy.

I’m glad my son seems to be one of the ones who can.

Acutally, I can think of one thing that wasn’t perfect about the Perfect Community. Too many golfers.

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