My parents were a great-looking couple. More than their physical appearances – they looked vital, engaging life with much the same grace and rhythm with which they danced. Something remarkable happened when they entered a room – they flirted and laughed and played and delighted those around them. They did it differently, for in many respects they had completely individual life constructs and approaches.
And today marks the eleventh year since my dad has been gone. Eleven attenuated, inexorable years. Eleven years that have passed before I took another breath. To say I miss him is a cliché; to diminish that fact would be a lie. He was my touchstone, the person I sought out when I needed to talk ‘work’ or topics which I held most private. He brought me up short without hesitation and he delighted in my successes. He was the most loving role model for my sons when they were little. If they have integrated any of his values, curiosity, warmth, etc, they are the better men for it.
We listened to John Philip Sousa marches when we went into work together. He would try to excite me about the book he was reading – whether it was about the life of a cell or the biography of some vague historical figure. He read the New York Times on the subway, folding the paper in that efficient way that commuters did that allowed them to hold on to an overhead strap simultaneously. And he would occasionally look over and laugh as he saw me nose-to-armpit with another commuter. We would always drive in the next day.
The words I spoke at his funeral were buried with him. Somehow I felt that they really didn’t matter to anyone except him. And with him gone, there were some thoughts that I would never utter again. And yet, I speak to him in some way or another every day.
This morning Bill Wooten @ drbillwooten.com posted a poem (re-printed below) that felt like it was meant for today and for me – as if my dad and I were walking down 82nd Street in Jackson Heights, heading for Shelley’s bakery. As if he were still reminding me to look past that which disillusions me and find the aspect that brings a greater calm. He is always here though he has been gone for so very long. He is the lump in my throat. He is the secret in my heart. He is the presence I seek in the subtle gestures in each day.
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and
if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or
have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be
careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you’re telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself;
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every
day, and if you can source your life from God’s presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of a lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself,
and truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.” – Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from the book ‘The Invitation’