Tom Stafford

Stafford: Appreciating the beauty that life has to offer

Finnegan, the latest addition to the Stafford gene pool, took his time in making the transition through fussy-tired into sleep.

One reason is that he’s in his first month of life.

Another is that during four years since his brother’s arrival, grandpa has grown a little rusty on his infant skills. I tend to rush the transfer from my arms to the swing in which he rests during the day, before his sleep is deep enough.

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But he’s there now, nodded off.

Pacifier in his mouth, his little thorax quickly rises and falls to the rhythms of his breaths. A thin, fine and heavenly soft coating of reddish hair spreads above his forehead, and a sculptor has added all the finishing touches associated with little ones: the thread-thin lines along the knuckles, the tiny dimples in the soft flesh near where his fingers join to his hands, and well-formed ears that look to me like the pink inside a conch shell he someday will hold to that ear to listen to the sounds of the ocean.

Oops. He’s back awake again, his forehead wrinkled like a distressed old man’s. I shouldn’t smile, but I can’t help myself. I’ll settle him and be back in a moment.

Where was I?

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Oh, yeah. Among the many unknowns about Finnegan is whether the little guy (I say yidda guy) will have an imaginary friend like I do.

No, I never had one as a child. But I’ve taken one on here in my grandpa years.

In the past few months I’ve begun to sense my friend’s presence.

I call him an imaginary friend even though I know he’s not really imaginary, as I’ll explain. In the end, I suppose he’s not really a friend, either. But for the foreseeable future, I think he’ll be one.

His real name is longer, but I call him Mort for short.

Mort doesn’t speak to me aloud. But with greater regularity these days, he points things out to me with a gentle nudge. It’s like a tap on the shoulder, only more like a tap in the part of the brain where the awareness of the shoulder resides.

It’s the kind of thing you can miss if you’re not paying attention, the sort of a tap Jiminy Cricket might have given in the days, as a child, when he urged me, in song to always let my conscience be my guide – to pay attention to the nudge it sometimes provides.

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But my imaginary friend is pointing out other things. These days, when I’m heading back to Springfield on Ohio 68 from the south, he directs me away from my customary and more direct route right up Yellow Springs Street.

Once I pass Walt’s Auto Parts just south of town, he guides me along the steady curve left, past the flashing yellow light at the bike trail to the spot where 68 goes to four lanes bypassing Springfield.

He does it because that’s where the sky opens up.

He does that so I can see the sunsets. So I look up, as I did the other day, to see a cloud formation in an otherwise clear part of the sky that brought a shark to mind. Likely because things fishy were on my mind, I them spotted what looked like a walrus in the sky nearby.

To the north was the main formation, a thicker, unbroken line of clouds that appeared to be a close-up shot along the ridge of a wolf’s back. The clouds had the texture of gray fur I could almost reach out and rub.

When my daughter, Chris, Finnegan’s mother, came home from her dental appointment, she dialed up a movie for me whose title named the things Mort has been pointing out to me: “Collateral Beauty.”

It’s a good variation on the term “collateral damage.”

What my imaginary friend Mort has been reminding me of is that I should take in that beauty. That the same beauty may not be collateral or unintended at all. That

taking it in should be front and center in my life for a simple reason: I’ve missed so much of it over the years, and my years will be coming to a close.

Just as it’s important for me to spend quality time with Finnegan, I might think about spending quality time with all the things I take for granted, like the planet I live on, and feel of sunsets, warm summer breezes, the translucence of flies’ wings and the patterns of shadows cast across the carpet in late afternoon.

As you may have guessed by now, Mort for Short’s full name is Mortality.

And although he may not, in the end, be my friend, I appreciate his friendly and increasingly frequent reminders that I should open my eyes to the world’s beauty while I can.

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