WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, 1906, oil on canvas
“I actually don’t sleep that well,” he replied. “Ever since my son was a kid…they used to talk about crib death all the time. And I was so afraid the kid would stop breathing in the middle of the night that I’d wake up every fifteen minutes. I kept thinking, What if he dies and everyone knows I’m a horrible father and will never talk to me again and then I’d have to live with that for the rest of my life, that my kid died on my watch, that I didn't take good care of my kid. And ever since then I’ve never been able to sleep very soundly.
“How old’s the kid now?” I asked.
“Twenty-two,” Alan replied.
I thought about that for a minute.
And then I said “You know how in a parade on earth there are…oh I don’t know, five-star generals, and beauty queens and grand marshals? Well I’m thinking after we die there’ll be a different kind of parade, when all the people who were good, who were kind, who God sees as important get to ride on their floats. So there’ll be Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. and...I don't know, the people who drowned trying to rescue someone else, and bringing up the rear, limping, staggering, inching along in broken wheelchairs with a dingy banner, there’ll be the alcoholics! Not just the ones who got sober, either, but all of us. Because we suffer so much and people think it’s our fault and we try, most of us, to be kind anyway…
I looked over. Alan was staring straight ahead, a set look on his face.
“I can’t get as far as anything like that at all,” he said. “I’m just trying to train myself not to swear so my son will let me hang out with my grandkids.”
Plus it turns out he doesn’t even have any grandkids yet. He's preparing for them.
So there you have it. The heroism of ordinary people who walk the streets, our secret sorrows, the invisible burdens the better among us bear without complaining, never even knowing what they do is a huge, noble deal.