On sunny afternoons this Spring, my older daughter (2 years old) has begun, in her own dialect, to ask to go play in the park across the street from our house, the house where I grew up. I’ll be honest, it is an almost impossible request to deny, no matter what the day has been like.
My daughter’s name is Charlie. She also loves to read (as a 2 year old reads).
One day in the not-too-distant future, however, she will stop and actually read for herself the plaque that sits by the bench at the corner of the park closest to our house. Perhaps before any other words, she will recognize her name. She will see Charlie Williams.
I look forward to that day in many ways, and yet have no idea how I will get through it: the connection made.
The plaque and bench are dedicated to my father, her deceased grandfather, for “protecting the spirit and diversity of East Nashville.”
I can already see the pride fill her face and the confusion to quickly follow. “But, I am Charlie Williams.” She will not understand the potency of her words, the spirit she will claim, and the responsibility she will begin to share.
It will not happen on this particular day, but the process of understanding the pain and beauty of the world will certainly begin this day.
And, someday when she is much older, she will want to know more about this plaque and this name that is hers.
Someday, we will talk about Depression.
Someday, we will talk about sexual abuse.
Someday, we will talk about suicide.
Someday, I will explain the month of April: the month my Father ended his life one day before his 62nd birthday, one day before the celebration of his birth.
Strangely, these are the conversations I feel comfortable with. I know how to have these now, and am committed to having them with whoever will listen. It will certainly be different, more difficult, this time, but it will also be special.
What I don’t know is how I will convey the life that was so much more important than the brutal moments that scarred it, or the mental illness that ultimately claimed it.
How will my Charlie understand the depth and contradiction, the beauty and the darkness, the love and the spite that were her grandfather? How will she know him as a Father through me and my siblings, an in-law through my Wife, a husband through my Mom, as a friend and respected adversary through countless others? How might she someday find herself reflected in these stories? Find her own relationship to a namesake she will never know? Will she struggle or excel in ways that he did?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. It is bigger than me. It is bigger than stories of a person, of a life. It is about connective tissue that must be generated, questioned, broken and reconfirmed over time. It is the iterative process of understanding where you come from and what that means to you. I guess she will figure it out. I guess I will figure it out.
Someday in April, Charlie will know the world in a new way, and, I can only hope, will spend her lifetime seeking to understand it.