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Essay: Time well spent

Charlotte’s panties have just landed softly, elegantly, on the carpeted floor of the darkened hotel room … and I’m about as engrossed as any human can be in a book.

It’s a hot, sunny afternoon, and I’m flat on the couch devouring Tom Wolfe’s new novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, about an innocent virgin from a small town who goes off to an Ivy League school to slowly discover debauchery in all its sweaty glory.

Yes, a descriptive deflowering is reason enough for me to read the book, but I’m also drawn to the college life. College was fun. And remembering those days — whether on my own or through Wolfe’s eyes — is intensely satisfying.

College was a time of few worries and even fewer responsibilities. But today, I’m 42, overweight, balding and boring. (To me, excitement means trying a new restaurant.)

Charlotte’s legs are spreading from the force of his knee pressing against hers …

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, a vague figure appears. “Daddy, can we play catch?” asks my son, Connor, an 8-year-old who looks exactly as I did when I was his age.

I feel as if I’ve been caught masturbating. I swallow and answer, “Can we wait for it to cool down? It’s really hot out. Maybe later.”

He ambles away.

Back in the book, Charlotte is seconds away from becoming a changed woman, but the mood has clearly wilted. I feel guilty. Charlotte, stay right where you are.

“Come on Connor, let’s play some catch,” I yell.

I know something about what it’s like not to have a buddy to play catch with. My father hanged himself a few months before I was born.

And hence the most essential post-college lesson I’ve learned is this: All we humans really have is time. And not one guarantee on how much time we have.

Becoming a father made me do something important. It made me pick through all the weeds of life to decide how I should best spend my time. And what I learned was playing catch with my kids, as silly and simple as that may seem, is near the top.

One round ball and two humans a few feet apart on either end is a recipe for true happiness. Sometimes our words speed past that ball in flight — between the smack of the ball hitting the glove. We are talking to each other, listening to each other. Giving each other time. Telling each other, sometimes without words, that we matter to each other. That I need you on that end and you need me on this end for this all to work.

It’s among the simplest of acts; a toss and a return toss. I give him something, he gives it back to me. Two beings sharing. Sometimes we miss the ball. The rhythm is interrupted for just a few seconds. Then back to equilibrium. Balance restored. True in life, true in catch.

I eventually finished reading Charlotte’s story, and I admit I enjoyed it. I’m not 100 percent sure that makes me a bad person.

That is, as long as I never forget the lesson that time — and time well spent with those I love and who love me — is what really matters in this life.

“Connor, grab your glove buddy, we’ve got something important to do.”

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