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Location: New York, New York, United States

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Navigator 8/15/03

Today, I watched myself wander down 34th Street, in and out of shops filled with clothes I cannot afford to buy. A faint, dusky sunset lit the box of space between skyscrapers, and I looked to this space for direction. A girl alone on a crowded street, the perils of city life are new to me. But I have been trained for just this sort of navigation.

At eight years old, I found my way through forests with only the sun as my guide. Well, the sun, and my father egging me on from behind, dubbing me the "Navigator" of our make-shift Indian tribe. My father turned fear of the unknown into a game. We would set out from his apartment on a Sunday afternoon, and as we got lost, the mundane became a movie.

Three walking sticks -- one for each height -- and we were on our way. My little brother sped ahead, carelessly thrashing anything alive in his path. Perhaps a sharp stick is not the best toy for a hyperactive six-year-old boy, but I think my father enjoyed watching his excitement.

David hopped around like an elf back then. He echoed my father's songs and jokes with his own silly versions. Our train's caboose, my father pounded his walking stick and stuck out his chest, proclaiming his new name: "Chief Big Bear." David was, "Little Bear," our warrior, he would say.

My "Navigator" title seemed much less glamorous. I wanted to be a bear, too.

But when I complained, my father explained that my role was the most important. I would find our way into adventures and I would find our way out again.

At first I was a horrible navigator.

I daydreamed into groves of poison oak because I had seen honeysuckles nearby. I stopped at every flower and butterfly. I would spend a good 10 minutes admiring the sound of rushing water or the shape moss formed on a craggy rock.

But six-year-old boys get tired and cranky, and their Kool-Aid smiles fade when they have been climbing rocks all day. The same thing happens to 40-year-old men when they are ready for dinner.

And so, when the sun set, I would find my focus. My father would watch quietly as I guided us back home.

Anyone who knows my father well can tell you -- this was not a quiet man. He was an entertainer. He often dominated conversation. He had an abundance of energy and a dynamic presence that could overwhelm, if not enthrall you.

And yet, with me he knew instinctively when to tone down his charisma ... and listen as I found my own voice.

My father was a natural teacher and never condescended to a child. He shared many of his life's lessons with me and my brother, yet he knew the best teacher was experience.

He never pushed. He only guided. And while I know it must have pained him all the times I have lost my way in the woods, he knew full well I would always find my way out.

I feel very lucky to be the daughter of a man so concerned with the happiness of others that he taught them how to relax and laugh. To stop worrying and listen to their hearts.

I feel very lucky to be the daughter of a man who could encourage my need to get lost in the details of life and yet inspire me to find my direction at the same time.

I survive in a city these days that tests the strongest navigators. But, I have faith in myself to still follow the sunlight, my dreams peeking through the cold granite. One might think I have new reason now to look skyward, but my father is not up there in those clouds.

More than ever now, I think he would want me looking up, if only to display my confidence. And my faith that Big Bear is always behind me, watching as I find my way.

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