“Because we can, and some cannot” was the reason Susan and I would give, that year we ran our first half marathon, when people asked us why. She had lost her sister, and I had lost my father – to horrible, debilitating, insidious cancers, and there seemed no other explanation necessary, but thank you very much for asking.
That was a lifetime and a bunch of kids ago, when we didn’t have to color our hair and gravity seemed an amiable fellow.
We’ve done lots of things over the years to commemorate the lives of our loved ones. We Relay For Life. We run in races. We plant flowers. We say prayers. We talk and tell stories so our children know their relatives’ names, and a tiny bit about who they were.
I don’t even know what to say about this Memorial Day. I just know I can’t let it pass without it being said. Whatever it is. So here goes.
Today, I was walking in our local neighborhood, the Bullo-dong, effectively not trying to read any signs because of the whole I can’t read Hangeul thing, when BOOM, something (a smell, a bicycle bell, the way my oldest son put his arm around my shoulder, a honking car?) reminded me of my dad; someone who used to be, and isn’t anymore.
Except in memory.
Memory is a gift, right? I mean, forget the fact that thinking of my father’s actual dying still brings tears to my eyes after ten years; there’s good stuff, too…
The way he laughed, deep and bubbling and hearty, with his eyes so crinkled up almost so you couldn’t see their blue shine.
The smell of him, after a shower and a shave, all cozied up, eating a bowl of sugary cereal and watching a late night movie.
His strong, sinewy build, weeding and working in his enormous vegetable garden.
His kindness with children, animals and the less fortunate. His soft spots – where cynicism couldn’t reach, even after 25 years as a police officer.
Shooting target practice. Drinking coffee at the kitchen table. Slipping me $100 dollars as I headed back up to UMaine for another semester. Reading the paper. Driving his truck, with one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas. Cooking partridge stew. Building the addition on the house. Building a fire to keep us warm. Building the foundation of what became – me.
These memories, bittersweet still, come to me like his crushing hugs; tight and constricting — every one like it would be the last. I don’t say this for effect: ask anyone. His hugs were real, and big, and enduring — and to my own dying day I will never forget what it felt like to be in his arms.
Because, of course, one day it was the last one. And he is gone, and I am here. And his influence? It continually seeps in like rainwater down a mountainside, ever changing my landscape in tiny, seemingly insignificant ways. Only they aren’t. Insignificant.
There’s this not-so-small fact that my oldest son looks something kinda like my dad, which brings memories at the strangest, decidedly inconvenient times, like when I’m yelling at Garrett for something he totally deserves a good yellin’ fer. I have been known to stop, mid-yell, and just hug the heck out of that boy. Because whatever the yelling is about isn’t going to matter 15 minutes from now, and he is. Going to matter. Like, always. And what if, what IF, that yelling was the last thing I ever did, and NOT the hug?
Dad still reminds me of that. Not so insignificant a thing.
There’s more. There’s so much more. These memories-turned-real-life-occurring-right-this-second – they happen to me all the time
. That’s the seeping I’m talking about. I’m certain I don’t realize all the ways in which my dad changed the landscape of my life.
I consciously take time today, though, to think about him and the ways he still does.