My buddy tells a story about the day he saw the towers falling to the ground, the day he knew he would never have kids of his own. Here is how I picture it.
He’s in between jobs on the rigs and staying with his sister in her Edmonton apartment. It’s early in the morning, and he hears her little one beginning to fuss. To give his sister a break, he quietly opens his sister’s bedroom door, and he gets out of bed and scoops the kid up in his arms. Knowing a thing or two about this and that, as he says, he warms up the bottle of formula and tests it on his wrist to make sure it’s a safe temperature.
At this point, he could just as easily have turned on the radio to one of those easy-listening stations. He could have picked up a picture book and begun to read it. He could have watched the kid draw pictures of bright red crayon circles. Instead, hoping to catch some soccer, he flicks on the television, and the horror unfolds again and again before him. Not wanting to make too much noise, he has already hit the mute button. The silver grey plane. The blizzard of concrete. The running people. All going through their motions, again and again, in perfect silence. The only sound in the room is the gurgling of the infant, the swallowing of milk.
For the longest time, he sits there, frozen. The child is content in the crook of his arm. When his thumb finally thaws, he manages to change the channel. He flicks through earnest talking heads and daytime dramas.
He settles on a documentary about Antarctica. There are ice floes and geologists with hoar-frosted beards digging up trilobites from the frozen waste with pick-axes. There are magnificent Emperor penguins, fluid as dancers in the bottle-green foam.
There is the camera shot of a mother penguin laying one single, impossibly fragile egg. She is sheltering it, as best she can, with intention and feathers. It sits there, the egg, balanced on its mother’s awkward, beautiful feet. Suddenly, she bends her beak towards it. She touches the egg softly, certainly. It is, as sure as anything, a blessing. It is a blessing, and an act of defiance. It is an act of defiance, and a message. It is a message of defiance directed to all the humourless gods of misfortune who are hiding their faces in the unforgiving Antarctic winter winds.
With shaky knees, uncertain steps, he carries the baby back into his sister’s bedroom. He softly, quietly, places him into the welcoming cradle of her arms.