Six months ago, the man who fathered me went to sleep for the last time. When the news of his final breath came to me, my soul was stilled. My lips were stiffened; and the sounds of life going on around me grew softer and muffled. Just as the cold of winter grew, so did an aching numbness within my being. Sadness, gratitude, grief. Grief. More a state of limbo, a sort of real-life purgatory, than an actual emotion – do what you will, detours can stave it off for a time, but the death of a parent is most certain to guarantee passage to this desolate destination.
I’m not one for psalms, but I often turn to another source of guidance, the words of Khalil Gibran. Of death, Gibran offers:
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And…when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
And of sorrow, he advises:
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
And while these words may ring true in my heart and mind, there is little solace for the ache of loss. During the past months I have been struck with a deep inclination to be introspective, examine my identity and my relationships and seek meaning in the events and experiences of my life. In addition, I experienced something of a creative shutdown; a heavy-handed reluctance to focus my energy on nearly anything, especially the sacred craft of writing – for every time my fingers struck the QWERTY keys, or my pen hit the paper, and sure as the sun rises a chain reaction would set me off into a choppy sea of memories and emotions. Over this time I’ve filled so many note pages, word files, emails to myself, napkins, scraps of paper, and letters to both the dead and the living, with a small mountain of memories, cognitions, and confessions on the very strange and bittersweet relationship between me and my father.
As the winter passed, I did everything I could to maintain regular routines. Productivity of any sort waned to minimal. I slept a lot and basically just went slack. Time moved at a slow-metered tempo. Even ragers seemed to unfold adagio.
Six months later, my father’s garden is coming back to life in the cool Eastern
Pop’s garden – community plot, 2011.
Pennsylvania spring.There’s still a certain tinge of coldness in the air, but the blooming irises, dogwoods, and delicate strawberry flowers mean that spring has announced itself, in the world around me and within my soul. I am still seeking a deeper peace, a way to turn suffering and loss into creation; the natural way of the world. As I am reminded that destruction gives way to creation, I cannot but yield to the will of spring time, and break through my winter cocoon. Death is not the end. It is only one point in a continuous circle that we are all part of. So while I haven’t quite quelled the lonely sadness that rests in my heart, and the meaning of what god has wrought aka the ways of the universe still are enshrouded, I know that I cannot continue to lay dormant.
Strawberries in bloom
It feels like breaking through a wall. The hardest part might be accepting the small ache inside that will be there for a time to come. It’s been tough to do the work of writing, to sit still and form the words into sentences into ideas. It’s been twice as hard to want to do it for anyone else. But I’m a writer. Flowers bloom. Writers write. Etc. Every person, every creature, has something to share. That is not a choice, it is our role in the grand scheme of all things. At least that’s how I see it. Do not mistake that I am asserting that one’s profession dictates one’s identity or contribution to the world at large. But in the case of art and artists, as in the case of flowers, this happens to be true.
So I have resolved to write more and more often. To share more and more often. To tell more stories and create more stories and seek out and discover more stories and be a diligent recorder of the experiences that are known to me, both real and imagined.
It’s amazing how quickly six months can pass by you. It can seem like one long day.
Dad and me, circa 1986
Whatever happens, at the end of any “day,” our power to create and give love are all we can depend on. At least it seems that way to me. It’s pretty cool stuff, love and creation, and I don’t want to waste them.