November 28, 2005
Jessica called a few hours ago to tell me you have left this world.
Now I’m on a 747 out of Utah, trying to strike a balance between thoughts of you and many years of family memories both bitter and sweet, while still holding some level of functionality in the bustle of connecting flights, merry holiday travelers, businesspeople making deals, and young children turning in their seats to smile and make silly faces at me while their mother rebukes them and tells them to sit down.
I’m tired. My training has been exhausting, and I’m weary from the stress of driving over ice and snow through strong gusts in America’s high plains. I haven’t showered in two days. I’ve slept sporadically. My fingernails are black with axle grease. I smell of diesel. My eyes are red and swollen; they burn when I rub them. I’m hungry and thirsty, but I haven’t been able to get anything past this swollen throat, this stomach full of empty, hollow ache. Stiff neck. Sore joints. Broken heart…
…Flight attendants. Cleaned and pressed with mannequin smiles, hawking snacks, cocktails and Cokes, flashing straight white teeth, asking how I’m doing. I say just fine and turn away, staring at the jet’s white wing and the grey, formless clouds beneath us. It’s life as usual for everyone.
But not for you. And not for me.
You are gone, my father.
I’ll never speak to you again in this world. Never laugh with you again. Never see you hold my delighted children on your knee. Never take that drive to California we talked about and looked forward to. Never hear your self-depreciating jokes or late night phone calls.
How insensitive I was when I saw you on Friday, the day after your own father passed away. You said you might go to his funeral and I questioned why you would do such a thing. I’ve always been angry at him because I saw firsthand the devastation he wrought in your life, the damage he left on your sense of identity and manhood and value.
Why didn’t I give you a hug on that last day I could talk to you? Why didn’t I tell you I was sorry for your loss, for the emptiness you must have been feeling at that moment?
I couldn’t see then how much his death meant to you at the time, how significant it was. I was ignorant; I didn’t know the resounding finality of death. No one I’ve truly loved has died.
Until this morning.
Your sister, my aunt, said that you have “always been troubled, and never got over it.” It’s true. You were one of the casualties in this world–one of those broken, wounded souls that never seems to heal, for whatever reason.
You had your faults. You caused me many pains. But I can’t judge you for them. In fact, I forgave you long ago. Because in spite of your own sufferings, you told me you were proud of me. You hugged me, told me you loved me, made me know that I’d attained to the measure of a man, that I was a success in your eyes. Somehow you passed on to me what your father never said to you, echoed words of blessing and approval your ears longed to hear.
You left this world three days after he did. Maybe you were so tethered to all those hurts and dashed hopes there was nothing left for you to live for. Maybe you were just ready for that anguish to end. Or maybe it was just time.
I know you were ready to go. I think you left because you wanted to.
Christmas is nearing. I don’t remember most of the Christmas presents I received when I was a child, except for one. I was 13. It was a gray Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, King James Version. Almost every time I read it I glance at the front leaflet, where you wrote these words,
Let the one most precious thing I leave you be a love for the Word of God and the God of the Word. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.
That, my father, is exactly what you left me. In spite of your mistakes and my mistakes and the hardships and complexities of existence on this fractured planet, you left me a legacy: I cherish the double-edged truth, and I have no greater hope in life than to be a friend of God in a world that disregards His love. My brother and sister follow this Way as well.
And that was truly the most precious thing. We were blessed to be given to a father who knew the joyful sound, in whose heart were the paths to Zion, the city of the great King.
Teresa and Joel and their families are coming from North Carolina to be here when your mortal husk is returned to the ground. My mother is coming, too. She loved you, even after all the years you have been separated. The family that made your heart glad will be together once more.
On the day before you passed, I was driving through Wyoming. It had been snowing all day. The sky was heavy, the long rolling hills frosted by winter’s chill. But as the sun descended past that long dark sky, suddenly it opened and the whole Western horizon glowed warm and orange. At the end of the day, the light burst through.
Two time zones away, I hope it was the same for you in death, my dear father.
Thank you for doing the best you could. Thank you for raising me, providing for me, teaching and disciplining me. Thank you for being my Dad and friend. I will miss you.
Your life was not in vain.
Find rest in the arms of Grace, and wait for me there. We will meet again.
Your loving son,