Subsiding

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“Daddy?”

“Yes, son?”

“Daddy, where did it go?”

“Where did what go?”

Hank had taken his eight year old son Trey to his first professional football match.  Roughly thirty minutes into the action, they were now seated halfway up the grandstand, sharing a cup of orange Fanta.  Each of them wore the appropriate colors for the home team.  During a lull, Trey had decided to ask his father about something he had witnessed that didn’t make sense.

“That thing that was going round and round…where did it go?”

Hank was perplexed.  What “thing” was going round and round?  He scanned the field to find it.

“Dad, it’s gone now.  Where did it go?”

“Where did you see it?  I don’t know what you’re referring to.”

“Not down there.  Up here and over there.”  The boy twirled his hand around in a sweeping gesture, pointing to the fans.  “It was rolling around a minute ago.  Now it’s gone.”

Hank suddenly understood what his son was talking about.  The wave!  For several minutes, people in the stadium did the wave.  You participate by standing up at the same time as everybody around you stands, then you sit down.  As a result, a pattern emerges.  Groups of people take turns, timing their rise to coincide with others in the vicinity, so that from a distance it looks like a giant wave of humanity flowing around the field.

Hank had to think for a moment.  Trey had asked a good question.  Nobody organized the thing.  It just sort of happened.  There were no instructions, no systems of reward and punishment, no leaders of any kind.  Just a spontaneous, mass amusement.  And when it finally ebbed, no single person had put a stop to it.  Folks simply quit doing it and resumed watching the match.

“You mean the wave?”

“Yeah.  It did look like a wave.  Where did it go?”

“Well, the wave isn’t really a thing, like a ball or this cup here.  It’s just a lot of people acting in concert, um, at the same time.  It just looks like a wave.”

“So where did it go?”

“It sort of died out.  People lost interest.  It didn’t really go anywhere.”

“Is that like Grandpa?  Grandpa died out.”

Hank was brought up short.  The funeral two years had obviously made a tremendous impression on his son.  Every so often, Trey would ask about his grandfather and about death.  But this was a different kind of question.  And a tough one to answer.

“No, Trey, that was different.  Grandpa was a real thing.  When he died, we buried him at the cemetery.  You remember.”

“He was here.  Now, he’s not.  I remember you told me that Grandpa wasn’t in the hole in the ground.  You said something like ‘he’s gone to a better place’ or something.”

Hank thought about this for a moment.  “Okay, yeah, let us imagine Grandpa like that wave.  It emerged, rolled around here a few times, then disappeared.  You and I participated in it.  So let’s say that Grandpa is like that wave.  Energy took on a particular form that we call Grandpa, but then the energy went out of him.”  He stopped.  That’s not quite right.  And he was being too technical.  “Let me try again.  Unlike the wave, or at least what we know is just a bunch of people who took on the ‘form’ of a wave, Grandpa’s form continued to exist even after he had died.  We know this because you and I buried that form.”

Trey was not comfortable with this level of abstraction, but he let his father continue.

“So, I guess a part of him disappeared, like that wave did, but the material part, the outward form, persisted.”

“Just like when the wave died out, the people were still here?”

“Maybe,” he said.  “Huh.  Maybe.”

“So if Grandpa is in a better place now,” said Trey, “Is the wave in a better place now, too?”

“No.  It’s just gone.  It didn’t go anywhere.”

“Was it even real?”

“Well, yes, it was.”

“I liked it.  It was cool.”  The boy paused.  “Will it come back?”

“Probably so.  But it wouldn’t come back from someplace else.  It would start up again.”

“That would be cool.  Do you think Grandpa will start up again?  Pastor said he’d come back one day.”

“He did say that.”

Hank thought it best to let the conversation end there.  It was too philosophical for a football match and probably too philosophical for an eight-year-old boy.  It was getting too philosophical for Hank!  Besides, he missed his father painfully, especially at sporting events such as this.  Talking about him just made Hank sad.  He decided to end on a cryptic note.

“Grandpa is still here,” he said, pointing toward his heart and then at the boy’s.

“So is the wave,” replied Trey, grinning.

 

About the Author: 
Nathan Harter is a weekly columnist for the Greensburg (IN) Daily News, as well as a professor of Leadership Studies at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.

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