I met Phyllis’ husband once. He was in the paper business. He had married Phyllis for her money – her father owned a paper making company and gave Robert a high-paying job in it – and then he came to love her. Robert also liked my children, Ruth and David. The one time I met him, he was as nice to my kids as to his own, gave them dinner and sent them downstairs to watch TV. After they were out of the room, I realized that Robert didn’t like me. He changed from relaxed and joking to almost frowning and not looking at me.
It turned out what he didn’t like was that from the moment we came in the door, I started playing CDs from the 70s, hopping around the room, dancing and saying “isn’t he great?” and “isn’t she great?” as though the musicians had done something incredible.
“They were just babies,” Robert said, looking at the musicians hopping and dancing around on the CD. “Look at that baby face.”
“They were young,” I said.
“Babies,” he said. Like our kids downstairs. They hadn’t become people yet. How can you talk about the wisdom of a baby?” Robert demanded.
“I didn’t say they had wisdom. But those lyrics……”
“You can’t pretend that Mick Jagger is Martin Luther King, or some other person taught by suffering. These kids……..”
Robert didn’t like that I referred to present day singers as though they were heroes, as though they had done some enduring serious thing that would matter for a long time.
Turns out that Robert had flown up very high to see, on strong wings, before he was born. And while he was up there he had looked on all the kingdoms with the kind of eyes that can stare straight into the sun. Beating his wings tenaciously – finally frantically – and keeping on beating them, he had stayed up there longer than most of us and then, remembering all he had seen of how things were from his great height, he had settled gradually to earth and birth. (Full disclosure: F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote most of that.)
Robert had never entirely forgotten that great flight, and so he had not been entirely born. People like that, like Robert, lift their wings and fly high again, years too soon.