Monday, June 11, 2007

when the winds of changes shift

To get to the Rhein turned out to be an ordeal. W stayed up late the night before, carefully planning out the schedule to get there. But poor little F threw up from motionsickness on the bus, understandably altering the plan. A train, an ill-fated bus ride, a stop in Eltville to buy F a shirt, and another train brought us to Rudesheim. There we had lunch, and walked around town to pass the time. Both children fell asleep. W & K seized upon the rarity of a simultaneous nap to stop for apfelstrudel, and excitedly chatted about films and politics, things they clearly do not get to discuss when the family is in full effect.

Just as the children woke, it was time to get onto the boat. A light rain was falling just as we boarded. As we walked with the horde of passengers, K burst out, “We forgot to put the champagne in the refrigerator.” W & K regarded each other, having some sort of telepathic conversation of which only couples seem capable. K shrugged and said, “I guess we’ll just have to have some on the boat.”

I paid them no mind, thinking it was all a joke. I knew K was partial to champagne, but it was three o’clock in the afternoon and we did not really have anything to celebrate. But we sat at a table, and while I tried to fend off F’s attempts to dismantle my camera, W ordered something in German.

Sure enough, a bottle of ever-so-slightly-pink champagne was produced. I very nearly rolled my eyes, seeing that W had gotten a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. I thought them silly for a moment, that they’d made this big fuss to make some cheesy toast about who-only-knew-what. W said, “So…” with his long windup. “Besides most of her teeth, there is something else S doesn’t have yet. A godmother.”

K smiled knowingly. S even smiled widely, though she certainly had no idea why she was smiling. W’s eyes were slightly red and misty. My brain had shut off. My stomach had flipped a few times. My jaw dropped. A godmother? They all stared at me. I stared back in disbelief, and blurted out, “You have got to be kidding me.”

The couple switched sides. K, who had maintained a serene cool suddenly grew alarmed, undoubtedly wondering if this good-for-nothing was actually going to pull an About a Boy and decline their offer. W, who knew me better, grinned at my outburst. After that, I switched into automatic pilot. I accepted, I thanked them, I told them it was an honor. I was saying the things that I thought that I meant.

But I didn’t know if I meant them. I didn’t know what any of it meant. A godmother, such a foreign concept. W & K are not particularly religious, and I am not Christian, so obviously religious instruction was not part of my responsibility. I knew that godparents used to be charged with taking care of a child in the event of being orphaned. Though that was a morbid thought, K quickly neutralized that notion by assuring me, “It just means that you’re someone she can talk to, you know?”

So I thought, cynically as is my default manner, that this whole production was a kind of ceremonial thing, well-meant but not all that significant. It did not carry that much weight, that much responsibility, and that relieved me. But W interjected quietly, “Uncle Joe was my godfather.” K fell silent. Even I knew about Uncle Joe, a wild sort of man, who used to storm into town every so often and take W out for dinner. W used to talk about him all the time, and I remembered distinctly the email W had written after attending Uncle Joe’s funeral.

I didn’t know what to make of it all, so I chose to make nothing of it. Sometimes, when your heart is given too much to bear, your heart will opt to ignore it, make light of it, anything to lessen the impact. I spent the rest of the afternoon letting F grab my hand and pull me up to the top of the boat to inspect the surroundings. At two and a half, F wasn’t about to open a discussion on godparenting.

Two days later, W & I were taking the train to the airport, talking about my plans in Spain and how excited I was. Out of nowhere, the meaning suddenly became clear. I live in a temporary state. I have friends, I am not often alone, but I have no expectation that I’ll have those friends forever, that circumstance will not pull us apart. Family is permanent, but they are bound to me as much by obligation than anything else. It is the state of my life and I have accepted it, that people will come and go, that I’ll be close to them and grow apart. It doesn’t bother me these days. Yet, here were two of the most elusive friends in my life, essentially grabbing me by the hand and saying, “this right here is forever.”

And that’s what I, in turn, have to offer S. I don’t have great wisdom to impart. I’m not even certain I can shower her with great luxuries or spoil her rotten. But I do have unconditional, forever to give her. In a puddle of joyful tears in the Frankfurt airport, that is what I realized.

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