Thursday, September 25, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — At a time when my daughter was not much taller than a door handle, the two of us would sometimes walk to a nearby park in Springfield where we lived. My daughter had pretty much gotten the knack of walking, though I would carry her when she got tired.
In the park, which was spacious, we would pass a couple of hours feeding the ducks, watching the tennis players or patting the police horses corralled there. And along the way, sometimes I would tell her stories. She liked Babar and Aladdin as they appeared in books and videos but sometimes I would just plain make stuff up.
“Keep an eye skinned for the leaf sharks,” I said to her one day as we waded through ankle-deep leaves.
She looked up at me, checking my face for tell-tale signs of a joke. I tried to keep a straight face.
“Really,” I added, “they’re pretty sneaky. Sometimes they’re hard to see. They have sharp teeth, so keep your eyes skinned.” My daughter looked down at her feet. She surveyed the surrounding sea of leaves. You could almost see the implications working themselves out in her head.
Finally, her eyes returned to my face.
“Serious and serious, papa?” she asked.
Who knows where the phrase had come from, but “serious and serious” was a code that had evolved between us. “Serious and serious” was as much a command as it was a question. It carried with it a requirement: Whatever the topic was, you had to tell the truth when the other person asked, “serious and serious?” The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus did not fare well under these rules of engagement.
But there was more to “serious and serious” than the obvious. “Serious and serious” meant you had to tell the truth as you knew it. It was not a truth to excuse with some irresponsible, group-hug, pass-the-buck, “because everyone says so.” It was not a truth that would be improved or dismissed according to the latest poll. This was a truth which very well might be untrue but it was the truth you were willing to take personal responsibility for ... and acknowledge if you turned out to be wrong.
“Serious and serious” was about integrity and trust and love.
“Serious and serious” might be a willingness to wonder whether George Bernard Shaw’s “youth is wasted on the young” had a natural corollary in “old age is wasted on the elderly.” “Serious and serious” in a mid-term election cycle might mean looking back at the “transparency” and “change” and “hope” that had likewise been promised years ago.
“Serious and serious” might mean finding the line at which liberal values merge and mingle with a conservative cruelty ... or vice versa. A decapitation or two can speed that process.
“Serious and serious” meant verifying whatever truth anyone chose ... without holding back or shirking the implications.
And why bother with all this investigative effort that mom or dad once performed on a walk through life’s leafy park? Wouldn’t it be easier to let others determine and enunciate the truth?
If living life according to the majority made much sense, suicide would be the only option: What greater majority is there than the dead?
That’s a pretty gloomy outcome.
But maybe living among leaf sharks and approval ratings is enough to make the kid inside any of us wonder what it would be like — just this once — to take a run at the truth.
It might not be true, but there is nothing fabricated about the effort.
Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at email@example.com.