|God made man because he loves stories.| Elie Wiesel
There are moments in a father’s life when he realizes that he is facing a decision of irreducible consequence. At first blush, the event my appear trivial, but in his gut the father knows that what he says or does next will determine whether his child will be going to Harvard or riding out his twenties working at the Gap to pay for therapy. This was one of those liminal moments. Even the college boys around us knew something sacred momentous was happening. One of them shushed the others, while the rest of the group ogled me like a Greek chorus waiting for the hero’s decision.
I looked over the side and noticed that small shrubs and oak saplings were growing horizontally out of the cracks on the face of the cliff wall. You’d have to make a serious leap to clear the vegetation. “I don’t know, Aidan,” I said, my knees beginning to wobble.
Aidan looked over the side, took a deep breath, and blew out. Then he looked at me and said again, “I mean it, Dad. If you jump, so will I.”
The next thing that happened made me believe that maybe some of the more fantastic Bible stories are really true. Maybe the power of the Lord can embolden a kid to kill a giant with a sling-shot. Maybe grace can make a rascal noble or a coward brave, even if it’s only for a moment.
I walked off the ledge.
The college kids were wrong. It was four full arm revolutions before I hit the water. The drop was high enough that the impact hurt the bottom of my feet. A belly flop from this height would liquefy your internal organs. But it was exhilarating as all get out. I was twelve again.
But then I remembered Aidan.
I looked up to see my eight-year-old boy, peering down at me. Around him was the Greek chorus of lacrosse players, fascinated by the family drama playing itself out in front of them. What I realized as I looked up at Aidan was just how high this jump really was and how letting him make the leap might be a really bad idea. He was so small. What if he landed wrong and did some serious damage to his neck or back? What if he accidentally hit a slab of marble no one knew was just below the surface? What if a condor snatched him midair and took him to its aerie to feed him to its condor babies? These are the kinds of things that go through my mind even now as an adult.
Aidan smiled at me, and I knew in my heart that everything in his life and mine had always been leading up to this moment. He jokingly made the sign of the cross three times fast and then jumped. Like his sisters, he hit the water so perfectly that his entrance into the water barely disturbed the surface.
“Yes!” I cried, and waited for him to come up. But he didn’t. After three or four seconds of waiting, I looked over at Maddie and Cailey. The two college boys on the island peered into the water to see if they could see him any better from their angle than I could from mine. Nausea engulfed me. I imagined one of his feet caught in an angry crib of branches and crisscrossing logs that had long been waiting on the quarry bottom for a victim such as this. I visualized Aidan’s frightened eyes and felt his struggle to get free. I was just taking a breath to go down to search for him when, two feet in front of me, a sixty-five pound blond rocket shot up out of the water. If his eyes had been any wider, they would have fallen out of their sockets. He’d lost a few baby teeth that summer, so when he smiled, he looked like a drunken pumpkin. He was laughing, coughing, and blowing water out of his nose all at once. The cowardly group of twenty-year-olds cheered, albeit ashamed of themselves for being shown up by an eight-year-old.
“Aidan! Aidan! Aidan!” Maddie and Cailey chanted and danced from the island.
Aidan and I looked into each other’s eyes, and a wonderful admixture of joy and grief arrested me. I had witnessed a death and a birth. Looking into his face, I knew that the boy who had gone into the water was not the boy who had come out. The old things had passed away; behold, all things were new.
From Ian Morgan Cron’s book Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me (pg. 240-242)