Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Lessons from my father: Just try
>It’s been almost 11 years.
11 years of absence. Of silence. 11 years since my dad suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. His not-there-ness still lives with me every day. Sometimes it’s the sharp, sudden pain of the joy he’s not here to behold, or it’s the warm embrace of a memory triggered by the look on a face. Other times it’s the gray scratchy blanket next to me, prickling, annoying, ever-present.
Then, in moments of pure grace, his voice rings out clear. And I learn from him, even now.
During his funeral, a family friend read letters that all of us children had written to him as last messages before the grave. In mine, I wrote that I longed to be known as a girl with her father’s eyes, in a metaphorical sense. I wrote thanks to him for honoring me: Within a year of his death, he’d said that he was always learning from his adult children. I remember him saying it in a tone of awe and wonder, with joy at discovering the beauty in the next stage of our relationship. And I thought, I have something to teach you?
(Actually, at the time I was still in college and was just beginning to learn how much I didn’t know. So when he said it then, I thought, of course you’re learning from me, because I’m so world-wise now. Eleven years later, I’m even more honored that he was humble enough to be my student, parsing out the truth and light from the naive and arrogant.)
But there are times, such as when I read something he wrote, or look back at the poems I penned in my fresh, world-swallowing grief, when I see that it is he who still teaches me. And I’m grateful. Even though he is gone, I’m starting to believe I will always have something new to learn from him. I learn from the way he lived his life, from things he said, from the mistakes he made and the ways he changed.
This is the first post in a periodic series I’m calling Lessons from my father. In it, I hope to explore what he is still teaching me today, nearly 11 years gone.
Today’s lesson: Just try.
In the first days after he died, when the earth stood still for hours on end, I think it was my mom who told me that he had mentioned to her a few times that he thought he could write a novel. My father. The medical doctor, busy with career and a full family life and golf and basketball. I’m sure much of his art was in the exam room, in his way with a patient, his kind eyes and reassuring calmness. But I wasn’t allowed in there, so I only got glimpses of that side of him. He was also a beautiful singer, but I still never thought of him as a creative type. I was dumbstruck. A writer? A novel, which still seems impossible to me? My dad?
This was a source of deep regret for me for some time afterward. I was angry that I couldn’t know him as an artist, a creator. I was a girl who bought golf clubs to be able to play a sport I really hated — all just to be with him for a while, to feel the warmth and love and affirmation I craved when he said “wow, look at that shot, Kimmy!” (Yes, he still called me that, into my twenties.) I could have used another way to know him, to show him who I was becoming, to compare notes and share ideas. There are lessons there that death did steal from me.
But here’s what I can still learn from his art, never born: Just try. If I have an idea, go for it. If my heart yearns for something bigger, how can I get there? If I have a passion that’s hanging in the background, how will I foster it? Because if my life also ends unexpectedly soon, I want my flame to burn bright until the end with all the love, richness and beauty this life can afford. I want to live it, right now, without fear.
Actually, there’s a lot of fear. But in the couple years leading up to our adoption, God was unsettling my heart. I grew less and less satisfied with playing it safe, with following the script I had envisioned for a small, insulated life. Then, traveling to a developing country and seeing Africa in all her beauty and heartache helped to kick me into motion, finally. I gave myself permission to think, truly — what am I waiting for? And I’m not. I won’t. Not anymore.
How about you? What’s your passion, the thing that makes you come alive, your art not yet born? What’s stopping you from just trying?