The Stroller

The Stroller

Ground Zero, Lower Manhattan, New York City.

Photo: AP/Baldwin. From The Atlantic's In Focus photography series.

If you can keep some little contour of beauty that you can glimpse at now and again, you can endure great bleakness.
— John O'Donohue

On September 11, 2001, in Salem, Oregon, after the shock-and-awe of the terrorist attacks, my wife and I went shopping for a stroller. Our firstborn was up-and-coming, in January, and we would not be deterred from bringing him into this beautiful, bleak world.

The stroller was a relatively big item on the day's to-do list, to be sure. Although, obviously, suddenly, the day had been radically altered. Somewhat beyond recognition.

Some days, even the most appalling days, are incapable of overriding the to-do list.

Thus the mantra, "Life goes on." And shopping, like life, goes on. In the weeks after 9/11, in fact, we would receive that gentle-strong presidential reminder—lest Americans had somehow forgotten—to keep shopping.

Sensing (in advance) this economic duty thrust upon us, Amie and I also ate out on that memorable day—at Dairy Queen. Americana, chocolate-dipped, with toppings.

I remember ordering the chicken strips basket, actually, if you must know. It included the kind of fries that would, in the not-too-distant future, become emblematic of freedom—and of the freedom to wage wars of aggression for which we are still paying down the debt.

At the time, I maintained a weird fascination with Dairy Queen's purported country-style gravy. Which is to say: I rather liked it. While today I certainly could not give it my highest post-ironic foodie recommendation, I can say: the gravy is mostly delicious, on most days.

I remember crying frequently on that Tuesday, and praying, then wondering how to pray, then trying to figure out the pain, then trying to think beyond the pain. On a pitch-perfect sunshine-y day.

For me, more than burning and collapsing towers, sun-drenched tears are clearer and more vivid. Perhaps more startling. They linger, too.

Because, with sun-drenched tears, we recognize the ancient metaphor hidden within the everlasting image. Human experience seems always destined to drink from this joy-sorrow-sorrow-joy concoction. A mixed drink. Made from natural and unnatural ingredients.

On January 18, 2002, Amie and I finally, for the first time, held our boy. He cried. He went silent. His eyes vacillated between open and closed. And soon enough he would take his first ride in the stroller.

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