Dad · Family

Getting to the End is the Point

The month of June will forever spin the threads of two momentous occasions together in my mind.

Graduation and Father’s Day.

The last time I graduated college in 1993 there was no pomp but plenty of circumstance.  The day I received my degree I simply opened my mailbox, ran my fingers under the edge of the thick manila envelope and slid my diploma into my hand.

I lifted up the heavy silk cover: Bachelor of Arts it read in fancy font. I stood there in the driveway looking at it for the longest time. Finally I snapped the cover shut, walked into the house and tossed it onto the stack of papers spilling over my desk.

I was lost. Even worse, I was hurt. I didn’t care that I had missed attending my graduation ceremony held over 3,000 miles away.  What was the point now? So I barely finished college. So what?  My dad was dead. He didn’t get to see me graduate. He didn’t get to see anything I did anymore.

At a deeper level I knew that wasn’t true, but I was determined to remain angry, to continue to feel cheated and hopeless. Why should I bother chasing my dream when the world proved to be so cold? I had no motivation because my biggest cheerleader was gone forever.

So I spent the majority of my early twenties lamenting my pain, my loss that no one else could ever possibly understand. Losing my dad was my excuse for everything. Doubts took root in my mind.  I gave up. I would never succeed. I would never become the person my dad thought I could be. My world was dark so why should I waste energy trying to create sparks?

Ah, but life has a strange way of seeing things through whether you’re on board or not. Fate intervenes and things correct themselves. Lessons are eventually learned no matter how hard you try to refuse their gifts. Threads in the tapestry connect and the circle closes.

It always closes.

A few years ago as I sat in the back of my first college class I felt that old familiar fear creeping in, threatening to suffocate that tiny spark.

But this time I had my cheerleader again. He sat in the empty chair next to me. I felt him there in every classroom for the past two years whispering, You can do it, Punky. He was seeing everything I was doing after all.

And I had to do it right this time. I wanted to show my dad I could do it. That I could finish this and see it to the end. I had to close the circle I had carelessly left open and frayed over twenty years ago.

Last month as I crossed the stage in my cap and gown in front of a thousand people, the sparks inside me creating a supernova of joy exploding in my heart, I had one thought:  I did it, Dad. I actually did it.

After I walked back to my seat with my diploma in hand, I glanced up into the stands searching for some sign of my dad. Did he see me now?

Laughing and cheering, I stood up with my classmates and ceremoniously turned my tassel from the right to the left. Of course, I knew the answer.

And my circle closed.

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Congratulations to all my fellow graduates.

And thanks Dad, for being there with me every step of the way.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

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Family

A Starry Night in November

November 17, 1991.

What was it about the air that day? Sharp and bright, laced with the scent of burnt amber leaves. The sweet promise of decay and death infused my senses, yet a bitter taste lingered on my tongue. Something wondrous and beautiful tugged at the frayed edges of my mind. Those worn gossamer threads were unraveling, and it chilled me to the bone.

Although 3,000 miles away, I already knew you were gone from this world. The moon and stars whispered to me as I crossed the dark field alone. Your universe has shifted, Dear One. I paused and looked up at the sky.

So much magic within that pause!

Standing over your grave, this air continued to fill my lungs, forcing me to breathe in spite of my urge to jump into the cold ground with you.

Why was the day we buried you so lovely? Why was the sun still there? How dare it burst through the clouds, igniting the caked soil on our feet with its dappled brilliance as we stood huddled and abandoned at the edge?

It was a fitting departure for you, Dad.

November was your favorite month.  It meant football games blaring in the background, turkey roasting in the oven, icy mittens melting on the radiator.

Now every year when November comes, the old familiar ache of dread begins again. First, it was a twisted knot of fear boring a hole deep into my gut.  Then for years only tired sadness would creep, casting heavy shadows in my eyes.

Finally, it gave way to something bigger than I ever imagined:

Peace.

For your luminance has roosted, nestled permanent and deep within my wounded heart. Keeping these bones of mine warm with the hope you’ll carry me through the many pauses yet to come.

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Family

Dear Dad

Part of a parent’s job is to make us feel safe. Comforted.  Accepted. Loved. Hopefully, this gives us the ability to venture out into the big bad world with little fear.

You did that for me. Thank you.

When I try to visualize your face, I see your smile and your twinkling blue eyes — like we’re sharing a secret joke no one else would understand.   “See? Life is funny!” you chuckle.  “Isn’t it ridiculous? Let’s laugh about it. It’s gonna be all right, Punky.”

You helped me to always find the humor in life. Thank you.

When I think of the person you were, I remember a quiet, intelligent, loving man who stood up to do the right thing. You always wanted to help others. No matter where their life’s path had taken them or their circumstances. You weren’t scared, you just did it. Actions speak louder than words. You weren’t looking for praise or attention. You did it because it was the right thing to do. You once told me, “Who knows, one day they might turn around and help you when you need it most.” What you put out there will come back to you times a hundred.

You taught me to reach out and help others. Thank you.

You gave me the power of having an open mind, to see all sides to things. You allowed me to discover my beliefs on my own, to keep questioning and learning while always practicing respect for another point of view. You taught me that being gentle to myself and others takes strength. Kindness is more important than being right.

You gave me the gift of compassion, trust and faith.  Thank you.

Compassion for others starts within. If you’re not kind to yourself, you can’t be kind to others. You will never resolve negativity you feel with others in your life — anger, resentment, jealousy — until you resolve those issues within your own mind, your own soul. The ability to love myself is crucial if I want to fully love and be open to others in my life.

You showed me to trust in myself. To love myself. Thank you.

Today  would have been your 75th birthday. And I know that wherever you are, in my mind you’re still chuckling, calling me Punky, and telling me it will be all right. And I know it will.

Thank you for everything you taught me.

I am the person I am today, I am the mom I am today, because of you.

Happy birthday, Dad.

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Family · inspiration · reflections

The Breakthrough

whump-whump-whump-whump

The helicopter overhead was distant–the propeller’s thumps a low murmur seeping into my mind, stirring up dread, thick and suffocating.

I stood inside my grandmother’s old house and gazed at the peeling yellowed paint on the walls and the layers upon layers of dusty photographs covering every inch. In one black and white photo, a young pig-tailed girl’s face beamed, sitting on her father’s knee, her face forever frozen in mid-laugh. In another– a girl in her teens, blowing out the candles on the cake, her father resting his hand on her shoulder.

A splintered mirror on the wall reflected an older woman. A woman now startled by the creases circling her hollowed eyes and the raw bleeding wounds dotting her scalp.  The wounds my mother gave me.

Hot red anger flashed as my fingers frantically tried to cover them with tufts of matted hair– but there were too many, they just grew and grew, and bled and bled.

whump-whump-whump-whump

A soft breeze blew the front door open, rustling the photos about like leaves.  I shuddered as the leak of fear dripping in my mind ran cold. A rush of wind swelled and the hardwood floor beneath me groaned, each floorboard lifting one by one, rippling like waves. I turned to look out the window.

It was coming.

Lazers of red light pierced through the tiny holes and cracks in the floor, casting blood-orange spots around the room; the thundering pulse of the propeller almost on top of me now.

I opened my mouth to scream, but only a raspy gasp escaped my lips.  The photographs began to flutter and fall to the floor, forming tiny swirling tornados that danced and circled around the room; the blackened edges of each photo curling unto itself until each one disintegrated into a thin gray dust.  Vibrations rippled through me, my body nothing more than an empty shell as the helicopter’s relentless chant filled my ears.

whump-whump-whump-whump

Bracing for impact, I shut my eyes and turned away, the taste of choking dust filling my mouth. It was outside the window now–a spinning black steel spider hanging from an unseen web growing bigger and bigger until it was inches from breaking through the glass.

Suddenly, it stopped to hover, frozen in mid-flight; as if the web’s sinewy thread was pulled taut. I felt a hand on my shoulder. My breath stopped.

It was my father.

Dad. Dad!

Dad?

I searched his face, unbelieving. He was young again; his face smooth, his smile warm and knowing. A sparkling white light radiated from his eyes.

Don’t be afraid, he said without moving his lips.

I will help you.

Watch me. I’ll show you.

Churning back to life, the helicopter continued its path toward the window. I closed my eyes, imagining it tearing through the house, shards of exploding glass, wood and metal showering down, consuming me in flames.

Look, my dad said. Here, look.

I opened my eyes.

He stepped in front of me and raised one arm, his hand shielding me from the spider. In response, it reversed, the broken shards of wood and glass flying backwards with it.  The thundering pulse of the propeller a soft murmur again as the helicopter vanished into a small black dot swallowed whole by bright blue sky.

I sucked in the air and a sweet coolness spread across my face, into my lungs and down my spine.

Silence.

I was standing on the precipice of the tallest mountain. Below me, an endless sea of jewels, sparkling blue and green.  I drank in the beauty as it flowed through my veins.

I floated. I was free.

My dad grabbed my hand and smiled. We were back in my grandmother’s house again.

Do you see?

I looked down, wisps of my hair were swirling to the floor like feathers. I tenderly touched my head. My wounds were gone, replaced with pink skin–warm, soft and new.

I do, Dad.  I see.

Thank you.

I looked out the window and into the bright light.