a love observed

It’s 9:19. 19 minutes past bedtime. 19 minutes into daddy time. But still she won’t calm down. Something had her wound up tonight; excited, slaphappy, crazy, adorable. I don’t know what. My mind is in another place, occupied with strategies to get the seven-year-old to finally lay down.

Maybe laying down in her bed will work, but it only works to make me tired. She sits on my chest staring into my face with the concern of a missionary worrying over the soul of a heathen. She’s wondering why her daddy doesn’t share in her excitement over who knows what. But I’ve grown old and serious – beyond salvation. I just want her to go to bed so I can go about killing the rest of my night watching something mindless on TV.

Her mom comes into the room to offer some assistance. And then it happens. Something mysterious. Something even spiritual. I don’t believe in such nonsense, but I imagine that for people who do this is what it feels like. She grabs her mom in a headlock and with a giant grin kisses her and then stares at me with the same ornery, wordless, and ultimately irresistible smile. Time slowed down for a moment. I no longer cared that it was now 9:25. I was just…There was absolutely nothing extraordinary or noteworthy about it, but nevertheless it felt like this moment was almost – it sounds so ridiculous to say – enchanted. I knew right then that when my daughter went to prom, when she graduated from college, on her wedding day, and when she held my grandchild in her arms it would be this picture, this moment in time, that I would forever see. That’s some pretty heavy stuff for now 9:27 on a random Monday night in March.

And I found it all deeply unsettling.

I finally got her to bed. 9:34. Sitting on the couch I turned on the TV to unwind and, despite my desires to the contrary, to think. American Pickers was on. Such a strange show – watching two guys travel the country digging through random peoples’ piles of junk for “rusty gold.” Tonight they were somewhere in southern Indiana I think. Some poor (literally) old man had died leaving his family with nothing but broken down barns full of ancient garbage that no one wanted but him. But my mind wasn’t on the show. It was on the girl.

It didn’t make any sense did it? I’m not a monster. I of course tell my daughter that I love her all the time. But on this night the sentiment had given way to the brute reality. I loved that girl. And it shook me.

Of course the MIT professor was right. He had to be right. He was a man of science and reason – a genius. If you can’t trust science, what can you trust? Certainly not the superstitious lunatic of a preacher with bad hair just a few channels down from Mike and Frank’s garbage scavenger hunt. I heard the professor say that human beings are nothing more than meat machines with computer brains. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we are anything less or more. Amen. Hallelujah. But how does a meat machine love? It seems ridiculous. I mean, who would dream up a story of a washing machine falling in love with a dryer? “They shared a work space for years. It was inevitable that eventually they would fall for each other. He was her Jim, and she was his Pam.” Machines can’t love – unless they were programmed to “fall in love.” Machines might feel what they believe is love, but we all know better.

So, this bothersome love concerns me. I’m concerned that my love would compel me without a second thought to send myself into eternal nothingness just so that she could have a few more years of life before she joins me there. And I have no explanation why. Religious people have their faith shaken by tragedy, but I’m here having my faith shaken by undeniable and unshakable love.

Mike and Frank just unearthed an ancient, rusty bike frame. Mike can’t contain his excitement naturally. “To the right guy” this discarded, worn out “bike” is worth over one thousand dollars. What a messed up world. Poor dead guy didn’t even know what he had. I clearly have no idea what makes anything valuable. Nostalgia is a strange power especially as we get older it seems. We collect, preserve, and surround ourselves with relics from the past. For what? Does it somehow comfort us to know that even though we will die and rot, something that we made or preserved or collected – our stuff – will outlive us and vindicate us? The Pharaoh built pyramids. Joe Dead Guy in southern Indiana filled up barns full of junk.

Commercial break. Another opportunity to buy stuff.

I know what Dawkins would say. He’d say something smug and condescending about the survival power of genes. The guy loves genes the way that most guys love football. But he’s right. Right? I love my daughter because in loving my daughter my genes are loving themselves – or something like that. My genes want to survive and their best chance is with my daughter. My good feelings of “love” for her are really about my good feelings for the survival of my genes. Yes, that’s it. It’s all genes. Love is just a mass delusion orchestrated by our genes. Actually, genes sound kind of like punks now that I think about it. It bothers me how much genes seem to care. I mean, what programmed them to care?

Mike and Frank are back in the van, headed to their next destination somewhere down another dusty road. At the moment, they are celebrating the day’s victories.

I think too much. It’s funny. Religious people can’t make sense of the mystery of God, but I can’t even make sense of the mystery of love.

I’m awakened from my scientific daydream by a bleary eyed seven-year-old standing at the door of the room with her stuffed giraffe in hand. She’s had a bad dream and needs the comfort of her daddy. I know that she’s just a meat machine. I know that I only feel affection for her because she carries my genes inside of her. But in that moment my faith in my lack of faith is shaken to its core. There is no escaping the fact. I love this girl. And I cannot explain it.

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