When my daughter was three or four, sometimes I would take her to a nearby municipal park where we would amble through the autumn leaves, watch tennis players, pat horses in a police paddock and just take the refreshing air.
My daughter's ability to walk and talk was growing. We would go here and there and talk this and that. And occasionally I would tickle and tease her.
"Watch out for the leaf sharks," I said one day as we crunched through autumn's carpet of fallen leaves. "They can be anywhere."
I embroidered the tale with one detail or another, creating a fairy story of potential, unseen danger. It was just a playful bit of embroidery.
But sometimes, as with the leaf sharks, my daughter might grow honestly concerned and uncertain. Was this true? And it was in such times that somehow we developed an unwritten code between us. The code lay in the phrase, "serious and serious?" When either of us said "serious and serious?" it meant that the other would have to tell the truth. No more bullshit. No more stories. No self-serving overlays.
"Serious and serious" was serious ... a compact of the most intimate and unbreakable sort. It was base line trust -- a wild card that either of us might play for whatever reason and at whatever time. Age, wisdom, authority, positioning ... all such things fell away when the wild card was played. This was a time of nakedness, a time when camouflaged fragilities might come to light, when hardened bias might be revealed ... a time when the truth was just the truth and the truth overrode any embarrassment it might imply.
"Serious and serious."
Naturally I was constrained to tell my daughter that I had just made up the leaf sharks. I was wistfully sad that such an imaginative bit of story-telling should be punctured, but "serious and serious" overrode all other considerations. I would not risk losing our deeper links by trying to perpetuate what was just a fun bit of story-telling.
"Serious and serious." Sometimes I wonder if everyone wouldn't be well-served by creating a similar trip wire within -- some code which, when brought to bear, would override all other considerations and allow whatever truth was true in that moment to stand up and take its chances.
"I love..." Serious and serious?
"I hate..." Serious and serious?
"I fear...." Serious and serious?
"I...." Serious and serious?
"Serious and serious..." Serious and serious?
The leaf sharks are wondrous beasts. The tale is told of father and daughter eaten alive among the autumn leaves. Not even their bones were ever found. Other leaf sharks are likewise wondrous beasts, swimming dark and dangerous in a leaf-strewn mind. The threats are as marvelous as a row of unforgiving teeth, a suggestive dorsal fin.
But doesn't there come a point when the question might be asked ...
Serious and serious?