Thursday, August 17, 2006

life is short

I went to dinner with my friends Andrew and Gabriel last night.
They are two of the loveliest people you could ever meet.
I have known them since I was a little girl and they have always been an incredible support for my father and I, having been his best friends for fifteen years.
The last time I saw them was six years ago, so our dinner was a jubilant stream of laughs and hugs and hellos and how are yous.
It was wonderful.

As we were sipping green tea after our meal, Gabriel's phone rang. It was her brother.
Their father, who the doctor pronounced strong as an ox during his checkup last week, was suddenly dead.
They think it was a heart attack.

We all sat in silence, searching each others faces for something to help us make sense of the words we had just heard.
We shifted uncertainly from near laughter- the detached variety displayed in psychotics who can't piece an understanding together from the fragmented fabric of reality- to utter speechlessness that blanketed us in the empty restaurant like a dark, heavy cloak.

We are all going to die- we know this- but still it shocks us every time.

This morning I sat down to write an email to my father to inform him of what had happened.
I found myself crying four sentences in.

My relationship with my father has always been strained.
I didn't grow up with near him me, physically or emotionally, and it left me feeling a substantial void in my life.
It wasn't his absence itself that caused me pain; it was the knowledge that he was consciously and consistently choosing other people, places, and things over me.
I could only conclude that I was insignificant.

This pain festered into toxic anger and resentment when I was a teenager.
I stopped speaking to him for a year.
I stopped visiting him for six, though he came to see me once.

I woke up one day and realized that this could go on forever, and it wouldn't make one bit of difference.
What was past was past.

My childhood was over and nothing I could do now was going to make it any better than it had ever been.
And though it was not perfect, I more than survived it.
In fact, I would not have what I perceive as some of my best qualities without some of those painful experiences.
They softened me to other peoples pains.
They made me human.

In writing an email to my father to tell him about the passing of Gabriel's father this morning, I was reminded that, for all of his shortcomings, my father loved me and did the best he could. And what he did for me was wonderful.

It's easy to lose sight of all that we have, all that we're given, when we concentrate only on what we want and don't have already.
The Buddhists would tell us to be an empty vessel, open to receive the ample graces that life hand delivers.
If we lock ourselves into a vision of how life should come to us- what it should look like, how it should be- we miss what it actually is.

The reality is that for everything my father didn't give me, there were a million other things that he did. I was just too closed, too fixed into my own ideas, to see them.

I wrote in yesterday's blog that life is short.
I had no idea that the truth of that statement would be so immediately reinforced.
We are entitled- as creatures of free will- to live with guilt, hatred, and resentment, or we can live with grace and gratitude.
At the end of the day, it's a choice we have to make.
I choose to be grateful.
I have a father, and for that I thank God.
Between the two of them, I have a lifetime of things to be thankful for.

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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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