ML Cavanaugh

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, PhD, is a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.

As we walked through the morning cold I was already thinking several hours ahead. My wife was out of town and the normal to-do list had doubled. This meant planning. This meant scheduling. This meant focus. My feet may have been walking, my daughters may have been with me, but my mind was already doing the afternoon’s errands.

After we’d dropped off our grade-schooler, my younger daughter and I turned around to head home. Her puff-jacket hood was up so that she looked to be a life-size pink gingerbread girl. Still, somehow, lost in thought, I didn’t notice she had fallen behind. When I realized how far back she was, I shouted for her to “catch up.”

When she (eventually) got to me, I reinforced, “honey, can you walk a little faster?”

She replied, “Daddy, I like to walk slow because I get to look at things.”

And lo, on a frosty Manitou morn, I was greeted by a pinkish puffy mini-angel, a herald to hearken this holiday season with her two messages. The first one is easy, the second is less obvious.

First, just walk slow. Slow down. Slow your roll. Life’s fast enough without our anxious, black coffee and energy-drink fueled hustle. That’s not to say a healthy sense of urgency isn’t a good thing. It is. But there’s a time and a place and when your daughter’s got things to look at, well, you can take the extra minute.

When possible, we should allow ourselves that luxurious lingering minute. This is just part of the package for kids. They take that minute naturally. They get distracted and wander off course. That drift can be a good thing. It gives them the confidence to make their own choices and that those choices matter.

The less obvious point is less obvious precisely because it’s something we deliberately avoid discussing. The part that often goes unsaid but shouldn’t go unnoticed.

We only have so much time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us the average American lives 78.6 years. It’s a little higher for women, a little lower for men. Some of us will live longer than that precise mark, others less.

Some much, much less. I recently read a heart-breaking story about a little girl named Greta who was hit in the head by a brick that fell from an eighth story window. In “The Unthinkable Has Happened,” a personal essay at Vulture online, writer Jayson Greene shares what it was like, step-by-step, as he lived every parent’s worst nightmare. He describes feeling light, “somehow immediately less me, as if some massive drill has bored into my bones, extracting marrow.”

And then, the immense weight of Greta’s unfolding brain death turns his thoughts to how fully conditioned we are to normal. He writes, “I imagine it’s the same for all new parents: You slowly learn to believe in your child’s ongoing existence…What happens to this sense when your child is swiftly killed by a runaway piece of your everyday environment, at the exact moment you had given up thinking that something could take all of this away at any moment?”

Tears are mandatory in a tragedy. They often reflect our own horror at the thought of suffering the same. While it shouldn’t take fear to drive us to remember the ones we love the most, I guess it works.

Time is a funny resource. We only have so much of it and so it’s finite. But there are moments that really can seem infinite, like the birth of a child. And sometimes time’s most wasteful use can also be its most meaningful.

So when my five-year-old told me she wanted to “walk slow” and “look at things,” it flipped a soul-switch for me.

I slowed down.

We walked together, as best as I could keep in step with my tiny human companion. I looked around at the shops in town, read their advertisements and public notices. I studied the colors in our ornate town clock.

Most of all I studied my daughter. What she liked. What caught her gaze.

Today, December 31, as the clock rolls over the 12 and the calendar turns over to January — mind the petite pink prophet in 2020. Remember to walk slow, and look at things.

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, Ph.D., is a senior fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, a professor of practice with Arizona State University, and co-edited, with author Max Brooks, Winning Westeros: How Game of Thrones Explains Modern Military Conflict, from Potomac Books.

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, PhD, is a senior fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, a professor of practice with Arizona State University and author.

Tags

Load comments