While I was working today, I watched "Deep Impact" on Netflix. It's not what one would call a good movie, per se; movies in which all mankind is threatened by a fast moving space rock on a collision course with Earth tend to be categorically terrible due to overly earnest dialogue, bad science, and repetitive deus ex machina eye-roll-inducing scenarios (e.g. Elijah Wood somehow manages to locate his girlfriend in a sea of thousands of evacuees just in time to haul her to higher ground before a colossal tidal wave kills them? Yeah, no.)
But hey, who doesn't love a fun apocalyptic drama!
Watching a flick about the end of the days on the eve of one's birthday is both a good and a bad idea. It's a bad idea for all the reasons I've already mentioned, but it's also a good idea because it does force contemplating the unspoken question of every apocalyptic drama: "What would you do if the world ended tomorrow?" Granted, my end of days is a long ways off (I'm only turning 35, for crying out loud), but I do think this question evokes a different answer depending on your age and experience. That may be the reason why the protagonists of "Deep Impact" range in age from teens to adults of varying maturity - each character approaches the cataclysm from a different perspective which drives their actions throughout the film.
I think "What would you do?" is the very question that motivates us to keep making apocalyptic movies - because otherwise, how many of us actually think about the precarious nature of life and act accordingly? Good thing we don't have a comet the size of Mt. Everest headed straight for Canada - we'd be unprepared on multiple existential levels with no one to save us!
Which leads me to the other thing that happened today.
Tonight, Harrison, you cried for a long time about not wanting to go to bed. Last night, a nightmare had convinced you that a monster was in your pillow waiting to attack you in the middle of the night, so you crawled into our bed during the wee hours (and Daddy had to go sleep in the living room as a result). "I want to sleep in your bed," you cried into my shoulder, "because I don't want anything bad to happen to me! I want you to protect me!" (Your capacity for innocence at the same time as you express yourself so maturely never fails to blow me away.)
To calm your fears, I told you that monsters are only make believe, that Mommy and Daddy are always here to protect you and keep you safe, and that our prayers at night fill your room with goodness and light to help keep bad thoughts away, for that's all that monsters are. Then, Daddy and I took turns sitting with you in the dark until you fell asleep. (You were there, too, Colin, only you were asleep for most of this. Thankfully, your dreams so far seem to focus on nursing and also possibly milk.)
So you may be wondering what all this has to do with a mediocre disaster film from the late '90s. It's because, despite multiple past viewings on HBO, TNT, TBS, and goodness knows how many other networks, for the first time ever, I watched "Deep Impact" and wept. In particular, it was the scene where Sarah's parents, seeing an opportunity for their children to live, strap their youngest - a baby - to their eldest - Sarah - and send them away to find higher ground. Her mother sobs as she watches their children disappear into the throng.
For some reason, it took being a parent myself to read this scene accurately. Though they have doomed themselves by staying behind, Sarah's parents aren't grieving the inevitable end that awaits them. They cry because, in sending their children away to survive, there is finally nothing else they can do to preserve them or ensure their safekeeping. They are, in essence, giving their kids over to fate, and though expedited by the unwelcome arrival of a 600 billion ton space rock, it's what every parent generally must do at some point. And something about that feels a little like the end of the world to me.
The older I become, the closer that moment will arrive when we must hope for the best and let you take over as your own savior. Watching you grow, it seems like time is hurtling ever faster toward that inevitability, and I have to consciously remind myself that I will blink and find two grown men before me one day. Some of the best scenes of "Deep Impact" are quiet moments between people who, despite age differences, use their remaining time to slow down and (re)connect. "What would you do if the world ended tomorrow?" For this movie (and for virtually every other film about the end of the world), that is the answer. In Hollywood and in life.
Another year of my life begins tomorrow, and as this day wraps up, I want you to know that I will do my best to keep you safe, secure, whole, and loved for as long as I am able, pending heavenly bodies don't collide with our planet. And until the day I let you go on to become the masters of your fate, I will strive to slow down the breakneck pace of our lives together, cherish every moment, and be grateful to God and Creation that I am your mother, come hell, high water, and meteors.
Happy Birthday to me.
Love you to the ends of the earth,