Thursday morning in Vancouver
or, Lo, Lord Stanley
The nicest large city I have been to is Vancouver. By “nicest” I mean this: that more so than any other city I’ve been, whilst walking around Vancouver, I would think to myself, my, this is nice.
I’ve been there twice, both times for my previous job, to do software set up and training at the Vancouver Aquarium. The mornings I was there, I would walk from my downtown hotel to the aquarium. It was exceedingly pleasant every day. The aquarium is in Stanley Park, named after Lord Stanley, the same Lord Stanley who gave the world the Stanley Cup, among what we must assume are so many other wonderful things, and I assume this, because every day when I walked into the park, I saw Lord Stanley himself:
You can practically hear Lord Stanley saying, “Lo, all this is yours!”
And by “all this” I mean the magnificent aquarium within the magnificent park at the tip of the magnificent peninsula at the center of the magnificent city at the far edge of the magnificent country at the top of the magnificent continent positioned in the northern and western hemispheres of the magnificent planet and by gum if there could be anything more magnificent ever surely Lord Stanley would have provided that too.
And so it was that on Thursday, September 19, 2013, another exceedingly pleasant day in the nicest of cities, I walked past Lord Stanley. Everything was magnificent as usual.
Four hours later, I was unexpectedly rushing through the streets of Vancouver, frantically making phone calls, to my mother, to my father, and to my friend Aleks who also happened to be my dog walker, issuing instructions with clipped details.
Another ten or so hours after that, I landed at O’Hare, with an excruciating layover at SeaTac inbetween. An hour or so after that I was in Evanston, where my wife, all of 25 weeks pregnant, was in a hospital room, having had to wait half a day for me because I was more than half a continent away when I got the message that I needed to haul back to Chicago and fast.
Two and a half days later, on Sunday morning, our son formally arrived. Today he is a happy, healthy, utterly ridiculous child, offering no indication that he missed out on an entire trimester of proper incubation.
But, dear subscriber, think of it: this email hit your inbox just about six years to the minute that I left a meeting in Vancouver, checked my phone, and lost my shit.
As frantic and chaotic as that Thursday was, most of the time, I was just sitting around, either on an airplane or in an airport. I was stuck alone with my thoughts, and while I’d like to believe that my thoughts make for decent company (otherwise, why are you reading this?), I wouldn’t exactly recommend that you be alone with them, certainly not for so long, and absolutely not when they tend to doom and disaster.
With so much waiting to do, and so little ability to distract myself, I turned to writing about the experience. Instead of keeping the mountains of anxieties trapped in my skull, I allowed them to escape through my fingertips. The resulting document still to this day sits on a flash drive named Thursday.docx. So far, only my wife and I have read it. I’ve thought about sharing it every year. I keep holding back. I’m not sure why.
I thought about it again this year, which so happens to be the the first year since everything went down that the days of the week line up. As I got to thinking about it all though, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what happened right before all hell broke loose. Things change for everybody when a first child comes around, but for us the change was especially stark. And as I got to thinking about the aftermath of the chaos, I also got to thinking about the what all came before.
I dwell on the niceness of Vancouver in part because it represented vast potential opportunity. We weren’t sure if or when we might move, but maybe it would be to a place very far away from Chicago; maybe, a nice place like Vancouver. The remoteness of the location has only amplified the remoteness of the timeline in my mind. My son is in kindergarten now. Sometimes I hear how he’s grown up too quickly. But when I think back to before he was around, it seems to me like a time and place very far removed.
Now, I hardly mean to convey the idea that things went from wonderful to terrible! 2013 was actually a horrible year in a lot of ways. My grandmother died. Our beagle died. Our other beagle flipped out, chewing up doors and engaging in similar destructive acts, eventually leading to an adult human’s dosage of Prozac. Other things happened too, and while so much was going on, some of us were pregnant, and I was away from home a whole lot for work, in such places as Sioux Falls, Omaha, Texarkana, and Davenport. (The less said about Davenport, the better.)
Vancouver though was going to be the last work trip of the year. Once I was home it was going to be time to get ready for the baby to arrive. And so my few days in Vancouver remain, for me, the last days of a certain wonderment. And since they were spent in such a terribly nice place, there remains for me this lingering sense - one that only pops up every so often, but usually around this time of year - of wanting to “get back to Vancouver”.
To be clear, I do mean that somewhat literally. I would really like to take the family to Vancouver for a week. We’d definitely go to the aquarium.
But Vancouver is far, which makes travel a little more onerous, and a little more expensive. It’s hard to find the time to go anywhere at all, but when you add obstacles of travel and expense, it’s that much harder to get back to the literal Vancouver.
The metaphorical Vancouver has been hard to get back to as well. Although I’ve gotten interested or involved in many new things over the past six years - school governance, running, podcasts, 16” softball, Yacht Rock - parenthood is the one thing that has felt transformative. That vast potential opportunity that Vancouver represents feels unreached, if not unreachable.
Very recently, though, I’ve started to notice some signs of vitality. It’s not a coincidence that kindergarten has just started. We’re in a new house in a new town with a new school. It seeps in slower than maybe it would have in the past, but I’m coming around to new ideas about things to engage in. There’s the PTO at the school. There’s being an assistant soccer coach. I may even get a toe dip into local politics.
The key thing, though, is that I feel more locked in to what I’ll call the experience of sharing wonderment. It can be fun to take a tiny baby places, but the tiny baby won’t remember the experience. A kindergartner can, and is just beginning to really talk intelligently about such experiences. We can plot and scheme together like we couldn’t before, but the sense of wonderment feels no less.
To put it another way: He’s old enough to take to Vancouver now.
And everything Lord Stanley bade us to behold is still out there, and it is all still magnificent.
It’s Thursday morning in Vancouver.
It’s Thursday morning in Brookfield, too, and the world is waiting for us.
If this isn’t nice, what is?