A few weeks ago Kira, Chet, and I went down to San Diego for the day. We went there to spend the afternoon at a nice beach, but mostly to have dinner at a Peruvian restaurant in Del Mar where, a year earlier (a few weeks before Chet was born), we had the best meal. We are foodies and have a tendency to plan entire day trips, even vacations, around food. We were excited to take Chet to this restaurant to hopefully have another amazing meal, this time as a family of three. But when we showed up for dinner (after driving two hours to eat there!), it was closed. “New ownership” had adjusted the hours. The dish we had craved, Aji de gallina, was not meant to be that night. Maybe it will never be again, for us.
We should have learned our lesson a few months earlier, when in Paris on vacation we returned to the restaurant where, four years earlier, we arguably had the most mind-blowing dinner of our lives (it was the first and only time an ice cream made me cry). This time we had 8-month-old Chet and Kira’s parents with us, and we had high hopes that our dinner would be just as mind-blowing as it was the last time. But it wasn’t. We talked that night about how we shouldn’t try to repeat culinary high points, because they aren’t repeatable. Invariably a subsequent visit to a great restaurant will disappoint. We should just let those transcendent dining experiences be memories, never to be replicated.
We had the same conversation on our drive back from San Diego after the failed attempt to replicate our Peruvian dinner. It’s a conversation we have a lot as food lovers in the L.A. area, where amazing restaurants are a dime a dozen but many of them only last a few years. Even if you want to return to place where you had an amazing meal, sometimes you can’t because it’s already closed. Such is the case with one of our favorite recent L.A. restaurants, Odys and Penelope, which we just learned is closed after a four year run. It’s sad to know we’ll never again have the creamy cauliflower and millet, or the maple rosemary-glazed pork ribs, or the chocolate pie with rye crust—dishes Odys and Penelope was known for. It’s sad to know, for that matter, that I’ll never again read the food criticism of L.A.’s Jonathan Gold—whose review first tipped us off to Odys and who tragically passed away last year.
Things are so ephemeral. Nothing lasts. The cheesy soap opera slogan is true: like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives. You can’t hold sand still. Life is always shifting, always moving, always eroding. Even if the waves crashing against the beach look the same after a while, no two have ever been the same.
These are thoughts that occupy my mind on this, my son Chet’s first birthday.
If there is one thing that becomes utterly clear living with a child in their first year of life, it’s how fast they change. Every month is change. Every week. Every day. We look back on photos from our trip to Paris four months ago, or Christmas eight months ago, and we gasp at how little he looked.
He will never be that little again. He was only that little for the briefest breeze of time. The winds of change keep blowing, and he grows and grows. No going back. No shrinking. Only forward. Only bigger.
This year has gone by fast. Doubtless his second turn around the sun will go by even faster. In no time I’ll be teaching him to ride a bike, then drive a car, then fill out a FAFSA. And so on.
But even as it has been fast—painfully fast at times—this year has been full of joy. Each stage, each first, each hike, each restaurant outing (except for the one where “grab everything” Chet shattered a plate) has been a gift, even if they can never be repeated.
Doubtless we’ll be tempted to repeat the high points: to return to that Laguna Canyon trail where we walked through springtime wildflowers with wide-eyed Chet; to replicate our first New Year’s Eve with Chet, where we spent five hours making a four course meal for just the three of us. But these attempts will probably end up just like our Peruvian food fail did—with another realization that you can’t repeat the past.
Nor should we lament this. Longing for “the way things were” keeps us from experiencing joy in “the way things are.” Certainly this will be a battle as I parent the always-growing Chet, just as it is for anyone who loves another person. It’s always tempting to love a version of someone, an era, who they were or might some day become. But that kind of love only makes the relentlessness of time worse. To truly love someone is to love them presently, in each passing moment, which is a love that is active and attentive, never resting on old feelings or future hopes, but on the now.
In the punishing, hurricane-force winds of time, this present-tense love is what anchors us. It weathers the greatest waves, the fiercest erosion. It keeps us grounded in something that lasts; something that carries eternal meaning.
Unless you love, your life will flash by.
I love that line from Malick’s The Tree of Life. It’s so true. So is this line, which channels Dostoevsky: Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light.
This is what I’m learning as my son grows up before my eyes, and as my favorite restaurants close, and as the ephemeral nature of experience wallops me with every failed attempt to repeat something great. What can we do in the face of all this? We can love. Every moment we have. Every person in front of us. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Every Peruvian chicken and rice dish. Every sweet laugh and screech and babble Chet makes.
And we can be loved.
On that day in Del Mar, when we were at the beach (before heading to our not-meant-to-be Peruvian dinner), I looked at the waves, endlessly breaking against the shore, and thought about something theologian Peter Kreeft once wrote, which has stuck with me:
All waves speak, but they speak in tongues, and we can’t interpret their speech. That’s probably because it’s too simple, like God’s. Maybe all they’re saying is I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU until the end of time. Like God....
Maybe that’s how we should interpret every moment. Every wave. Every road trip. Every funny face and baby giggle. Every bite of food. They are not things to hoard or to grasp onto, but messages of love from a gracious Creator.