I have seen the tops of clouds
This is something I wrote from 2004, back in the days of nocaps. I place it here for archival reasons.
every so often it's four in the morning, and i accidentally had some caffeine, and i haven't been able to sleep, and the house is quiet, and the paranoia hits. i see a world of danger outside and feel my own flaw from within. i feel encroached by darkness. in a way, it's harder now than ever even if the depression is easier to handle. because now i have ada, and even when i sooth the fears for myself i am still cocooned in fears for her. years ago, lying on a bed in sunnyvale gilbert made me answer the tough question when one is pleading for unborn children. why? why have a child? my pre frontal cortex was conscripted by more ancient chambers of my brain. "come up with a reason," they said, "one of your constructed reasons. we don't care. we know what we're here to do, it's you that gets all confused. give him a damn reason, and make it good." so my front brain tried to compress a single sentient view of the universe and a life of cognitions into a reason to have a child. a good reason to satisfy all my brain, or at least a good enough reason to get the old chambers what they wanted from my mate. i was not doing well in my career. i was not a year out of a black depression. my body was terribly troublesome, and nothing promised me an easy time having children. i came from a bloody awful species and i was ashamed of what we were passing to the next generation. i was still angry at my parents for the raw deal they handed me, and unsure how anyone could go about doing better. and i was caught- i had to tell gilbert why i wanted a child and by extension i had to tell him why he wanted a child too. i had to tell him why he should be trying to beget a child on a woman who had showed him, at times, no joy at all.
"children," i told him, "are the ultimate act of hope."
this is my parenting philosophy. what i like about it is that it promises so little. children are not our future, they do not fulfill us, there is no right way to raise them. there are no assurances that things won't go terribly wrong. but when you have a child you aren't feeling hope, you are engaging in a hope so strongly is pushes the rest of your life.
that makes the paranoid nights harder than they used to be. i feel the whole outside welling up in unknown darkness, all the threats it carries- accidental nano-prions, or strange infectious diseases, or the old fashioned never ending wars that just chew their way though swathes of people. all grown-up monsters for my grown-up mind. these nights i am terrified and taunted by death. when i go out without ada i imagine someone forcing their way into my home and slaughtering my family. i see danger in our food, our air, i test the water. i think about car accidents a lot. i know it could all be gone, any day now. all my joy could be wrapped in hot metal, burning, it could be dying in agony, it could just go away. but i cope- the welling anxiety i keep in check, usually just reminding myself that there isn't anything i can do anyway. then come late nights like this one, no sleep, just a future in which i can only predict death for sure. i can collapse into the fear, and now with the physical manifestation of hope at my side, i feel all the more vulnerable- she is so fragile, so perfect.
i have a secret weapon for these times. i don't use it too often, so that it doesn't lose its power. i learned it on airplanes, which are strange and thrilling and full of fear and boredom. when i am very frightened, i look out the window on airplanes and say very quietly
i have seen the tops of clouds.
and i have. in all the history of man, i am one of the few that has seen the tops of clouds. so many would have died to do so, some did. i would have, but it's not required, so instead i have seen them many times. i have seen my planet from space, and looked at galaxies too numerous to count. galaxies! i know the shape of an atom. i know mysteries that great philosophers would have died for, just to have them whispered in their dying ears. i learned some in school, and others i can get off the internet as i want them. i live in the middle of wonders, truths and concepts and magics easily worth a lifetime to look at and or learn, and i am still alive. it is good that i am alive, that we are. even if we kill ourselves off with gray goo, it is good that we have lived. it is good that we have done what we have done, and that we have grown. and the only thing we can say for sure is that we will die, but we will die having gone so far above our primordial ponds and monkey trees that we saw the tops of clouds.
that takes away the fear for me. not all of it, but enough so that i can go back upstairs now, and cuddle my daughter, and dream dreams of what we'll do next, engaging in hope, adding to the sum of human good with my own moments. acknowledging the boring and unpleasant truths along the way.
i can predict one other thing now: if i live to see tomorrow, i'll be dog-tired.