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Matt Allio

In One Second

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I can’t help but reflect on my own Thanksgiving experiences and those of our families at Trinity.

My children are now grown. Nicole is 32 and recently moved from Washington, D.C. to Sacramento. She works for the Nature Conservancy in the advancement office. Andrew is 29 and is in Indonesia as he completes six months touring Spain, China, Indonesia, and Australia, living through his backpack and wanderlust. He is a teacher in Los Angeles, otherwise. Alexander is 26, lives in Alameda and works in an extended care program at a San Francisco private school. For Thanksgiving they’ll be in Missouri, Indonesia and Santa Barbara respectively, all for assorted reasons, and I’ll be in Oakland with some of my brothers and sisters. I can’t help, in this moment, contrast the experience of having grown children with having young children in the home, like all of you.

 

What is amplified in my reflection are the moments – the seconds – recalled when children are young. And how those seconds can last a lifetime

I have many holiday memories of my children. Celebrating Thanksgiving in a cramped New York City apartment with pre-cooked turkey and just-add-water stuffing. Having an afternoon feast and walking during the sunset on a warm Santa Barbara beach. Coming to our house on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, after my divorce, and all of us trying to find our way.

My son Andrew and I had a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition for a number of years. We’d wake up at 4:00 am, get to Toys-R Us-by 5:00 am when the doors swung open, and watch masses of people running the aisles. We weren’t there to buy – only to watch. From there, we’d take as many methods of public transportation as possible until we ended up in Union Square, to meet Nicole and Alexander, for the Christmas Tree lighting at 6:30 pm. We’d take Muni, Caltrain, BART, and SamTrans – pausing to watch planes take off by the airport and wondering where we might want to go. Sometimes we’d go the Marin route, sometimes the East Bay – but it was always a day of public transportation.

Whether in NYC, Santa Barbara, or San Francisco – there were many hours together. Now I’d like to tell you about a lone second that I’ll never forget.

One year, my kids and I braved the crowds and the chill, waiting for the Christmas tree to light. I remember standing there, perhaps for 45 minutes, feeling equal parts irritated and festive. The choir from Grace Cathedral was providing the sounds of the season, and the windows of the St. Francis Hotel were lined with people.

Finally, the countdown from ten. I didn’t have a clear view of the tree as I was a step behind my children, on a downslope. I looked up, beyond their heads, for the lighting. When the crowd shouted zero, the tree illuminated brightly. And in that one second, each of my children turned their head and looked directly at me. It was just a glance – not an embrace, or a high-five. Just a glance, a second, with my children. That one second still carries me through the days.

 

I’d like to remind all of us of those seconds – the ones that can’t be predicted or engineered. There may be no phone to capture the moment and no setting that can guarantee it. I bring this up because these moments sometimes happen when our children are young. As they get older, the seconds evolve. There are graduations, weddings, and vacations, relationships, new family members, relatives.

Those evolved seconds are good and desirable. And yet, they are different.

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