I had a rough time getting to sleep last night – had something to do with business. As we sometimes say, our day often results in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And it was one of those days you replay on the projector especially when you’e gone to bed, the lights are out and a steady silence in the room.

So I put on my robe and sat down in the living room with a low light on. I’ve been reading Time and Again by Jack Finney at my wife’s suggestion. The storyline is about a man who travels back in time to the late 19th century. But it turns from a research project into a personal search for a solution to a family mystery. I won’t tell you the ending since I’m still reading it.

After about an hour or so, I put the book down and went back to bed. Getting under the covers, I still felt a bit agitated about the day so tried to imagine what it would be like if I could travel back in time myself. What popped into my head was a particular event that happened when I was at least less than seven years old. I say that, because it took place in the neighborhood where I was born, a place that we moved from when I turned that age.

I was in the car with my father. It was one of those big 50’s style cars, with soft seats and cast iron dashboards. There were no seatbelts so I was able to roam around the front bench seat, often in the middle where I could stare down the hood ornament and pretend it was a laser gun.

My father wasn’t dressed for work but dressed for a “visit” – he wore a long coat and a brown, wide brimmed fedora pushed slightly back. He usually wore a baseball style cap which kept the grease from getting into his hair while he worked underneath cars but I only saw him in that hat when he left for work in the morning and returned home at night.

We were rolling slowly down the block on a one way street, parked cars bumper to bumper on either side – when he suddenly stopped. He put the car in park, and leaving the door open, crossed in front of the car to the sidewalk. I followed him and as he mounted the curb from between the cars, I saw he started moving towards a balloon floating lazily several feet off the ground. There was no breeze so the balloon just bobbed a bit while the ribbon that hung from the knot spiraled down towards the sidewalk.

But when he reached for the balloon, as he put his hands on it, it suddenly popped. He watched the bit of rubber fall to the ground, then turned and came back to the car. When he sat down, he paused a moment, but didn’t look at me. Just a brief, small coda with an odd grin on his face. Then he put the car in drive and we continued down the street.

He may have not looked at me but I did look up at him. I understood immediately what he tried to do. But I wasn’t disappointed by any means. I know he intended to catch the balloon and bring it back to the car for me. The pop of the ballon was a surprising unintended consequence.

But at that moment that I looked up at him, I could never have loved this man more. I was quiet and reserved as he was with me. But that very moment, that one particular fraction of time, when I looked up at him, at his clean shaven face, and deep eyes, has never left my memory.

I lay there in that bed thinking thru that memory. I never said anything to him then – although I’m not sure what a 7 year old could say. But what if I could travel back to that moment. What if, sitting next to him now in the cavernous space of that old Buick, what would I say.

Showering this morning I thought about that image, that small clip. I guess the poet in me thinks that there are lessons to be had. But right now, as I sit here, I can think of only one. And it’s that if you have something to say, say it.

Say it now.

My father balancing my older brother in the palm of his hand
ca. 1930’s