By now, you may have seen the photo of Zdeno Chara riding the Rowdy Rooster in New Hampshire's Canobie Lake Park, courtesy Busted Coverage. If not, then feast your eyes, because it's great.
Funny, funny stuff. If there was another sign beside the You must be this tall to ride sign that said But you probably shouldn't be taller than this, Chara would eclipse it, I think.
Freakishly tall man on cramped, small children's ride? It puts the "amusement" in amusement park. You half expect Nelson Muntz to be standing off to the side shouting "Haw haw!" every time the Chara and family come around.
There's more to this photo, though. Add in the context that Chara just watched the Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup on his home ice after an epic, Game 6 collapse, and the photo isn't just rife with comedy -- it's also loaded with pathos. Stuffed into a tiny car where his knee is nearly parallel with his shoulder and fresh from having come up short after coming so far, there's really no way Chara can be enjoying this moment.
Yet he's there, putting the events of the night prior behind him and taking his family out for the day. Here he is waiting in line to get rowdy with the kids:
I chuckled at these photos the first time around, but on second thought, the whole thing struck a really personal chord.
When I was younger, my grandfather on my dad's side passed away in Florida. We didn't really know him all that well, because he lived pretty much as far away from Vancouver as one could and because he and my dad weren't all that close. But when he died, we headed down there -- my dad, my mom, me and my brothers.
Shortly after we arrived in my grandfather's apartment, where we'd be staying for the next week, we discovered that Florida had the beach. The beach.
It only was a block away, too. Our minds instantly began to glow red hot with the architectural plans for sand castles, and when we discovered our grandfather's massive sand dollar collection, we suddenly became avid collectors ourselves. We asked our dad if we could go to the beach. He said he'd take us in an hour.
I think this was before I could really tell time, but I knew an hour was two cartoons. So we sat down in front of the TV and watched two shows on Nickelodeon, this channel just for kids that didn't exist in Canada. Normally, watching it was some kind of special vacation treat, but this time, it seemed like the shows went on forever.
Finally, they ended, and we changed into our bathing suits and sprinted into our parents' bedroom, thinking they'd be in the process of buckling sandals and applying sunscreen for a day of fun and frivolity at the beach.
But when we opened the door, Dad was sitting on the edge of the bed, crying. Mom was sitting next to him with her hand on his back. It had somehow never occurred to us that this trip was more than just a vacation for him.
It still didn't occur to us, actually. "Dad, let's go!" I said, with about as much empathy as your standard preschooler. "It's been an hour!"
He looked at me. A tear fell from his chin to his lap, leaving a dark dot on his shorts.
"Why are you crying?" I asked.
"He's just sad," my mom said.
He gave her a look of gratitude for answering the question. Then after a moment, he nodded to himself, stood up, and stepped into the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, we were at the beach. He buried me up to my head in sand.
Sometimes I go back to that moment, and these photos of Big Z at Canobie Lake (which is Just For Fun!, and not for wondering where it all went wrong) take me back. I remember standing there, watching tears slowly roll down my dad's face, trying to process this new information that my dad cries. I'd never seen him do it before. Over two decades later, it occurs to me that I haven't seen him cry since. That was my dad at the saddest I've ever seen him, and while he sat there trying to work through whatever he was working through, we pestered him to come play with us.
Whenever I think about this moment, I'm struck by this amazing thing that parents can do where, in their darkest moments, in the moments where they're at their lowest, they just take a deep breath, switch into "Dad mode" or "Mom mode" and take you to the beach.
Or to the amusement park.
One day, I imagine, Chara's kids are going to understand why he didn't smile much that Tuesday.