Virginia Wolf describes Consciousness “a wave in the mind”; which is the Mind she is talking about, what is the wave?? I see the Mind as the universal field of consciousness, in which our own, individual minds are the waves.
With each birth, we come anew to the shore of life, each time a different wave, but with somehow the memory of those previous waves we’ve been before. At the scale of the universe, we may be less significant than the wave at my feet is to the Ocean. But we keep the memory of all the water, and we hold the experience of all the Ocean we will return to, time after time. Each time we go back charged with the baggage of new experiences, of lived emotions, of the enlightening “aha” moments.
The Dragon Strikes From The Back
“And so it is that in our childhood years the foundation is laid of our later view of the world, and therewith as well of its superficiality or depth: it will be in later years unfolded and fulfilled, not essentially changed. J Campbell, Pathways to Bliss, 186-7
“I don’t wish for this to happen to anyone, but, if it happens, I have it all here.” By “this” he refers to the illness carrying the name of my zodiac sign, the one in mid-summer. But there’s nothing to worry about, since dad says he has it “under control.”
If many are scared to death, running for cover as fast as they can, just when they hear its name, to me, the probability for “this” to happen to anyone in my family, especially to my father, is less likely than, say, getting sunburns inside a mountain cave. For as long as I can remember, dad has been this self-taught valiant knight, who, mounted on his horse, stirrups, armor and all, has been fighting the Cancer dragon with shield and spear (read: medical books and own improvised laboratory.) If I am to believe him, the dragon could never raise its head higher than the horse-knee level, as dad slew it with a lethal blow. I heard my creative father saying, perhaps, half-a-million times along the years, at the dinner table, on the bus or train, over the phone, whenever I would call to give him news about myself:
“I got it all here; the Krebs cycle gets to be reversed, because of the lack of oxygen in the mitochondrial respiration…,” and so on. My dad was never a doctor or a scientist. By career, he is an army officer, and with army men, it is well known: their reason for being is to wedge fights. And dad’s choice of enemy to fight, has been, I have no idea why, since we never had it in the family, nothing less than the cancer disease. With him, cancer became an obsession.
Fathers usually keep talking at the dinner table about bills, car repair and planned holidays; at our dinner table I kept hearing my father talking, besides tales on Greek philosophers, about mitochondrial respiration and reversed Krebs cycle, anions and enzymes, hyperoxides, unpaired electrons and electron spins. It wasn’t easy. I just wanted a normal dad – was it asking too much??
May 26 – Destiny Games
Finally, I hear my phone ringing…. it’s Julian who calls.
“Look, it’s not… just the stroke; there’s something more…”
The dreaded news drops heavily, like a lump of lead, like a punch in the stomach that leaves you nauseating, dizzy. After Dad’s stroke I had no idea that the worst was yet to come, and the disease that was his life enemy, or life companion, announced itself in the nastiest way.
“Don’t tell me…. Dad?!”
For as long as we can remember, our father, a self-taught researcher, has been studying the cancer disease looking for therapies, with his own means, on his own body. Dad made us all believe that he was the Master, that he was in control of it, that he had the cure, but now, the MRI and the CT show the opposite. On top of the stroke.
“Dad knows what’s going on, and I permanently keep him updated. I had to promise him since the first day that I won’t agree to a longer stay at the hospital, no more than imposed by investigations,” my brother tells me.
“What?? Did you tell him…?
His answer is long to come, and I hear hesitation in his voice:
“Oh, no, I couldn’t. He knows only about the stroke – and it is he who first advanced the idea… I mean, the doctors only had to confirm it to him. Guess what?? He tells me he’s in control – and that, once at home, he’ll get back well.”
“I see … but there must be some therapy that he must do inside, something, at least??”
“Well, you know him. He also insists that I decline any therapy or procedures to be followed inside here. I’m telling you, he knows what he is doing. I had to promise him that I am going to ask for immediate discharge – under family’s signature … I can’t do it alone. I want your opinion.”
“Of course…” But, instead of giving an answer, I choose caution – which, sometimes, is just the way of the coward. Sure I know that neither mom, nor my brother are any more comfortable with this choice than I am right now … over the phone. Gosh, am I lucky to be far away…
“What does mom think of that?” I ask, when I very well know that mom would not even consider contradicting dad’s will.
“She wants us to decide.”
“I know… I mean, I needn’t even ask. I’m also thinking that keeping him against his will would only worsen his condition,” I say. But I still cannot decide. I don’t know whether telling him the whole truth, or just letting him know half of it… which one could be better, in his state…
“He says he’ll take medication at home, if they’ll discharge him today – I made him promise that,” says Julian. Dad keeps his promises, I know.
In the evening, I have a long talk with my husband… as a doctor, and from his personal experience, even in his family, I trust him best to give us council. He knows Dad, too… only too well.
“Well,” he sighs, “I guess he would not stay inside the hospital for treatment under any circumstances, would he??”
My husband knows something about this from having had a similar experience close in the family, not just as a doctor. Finding someone you love, tied up arms and legs to a hospital bed because he’s opposing treatment is not an easy thing, especially when you are a doctor yourself. He agrees with me; of course Dad won’t stay in a hospital, of course it would be like a death sentence to him. He would feel it a direct outrage to himself and to his work of a lifetime, a clear proof that we don’t trust him … or that we never did. Dad had spent the most beautiful years of his youth in hospital beds, and he dedicated his lifetime to invent a Utopian world where people would not have to go to hospitals, unless it was for routine procedures, acute symptoms or surgery. Obviously, he didn’t succeed to make it true, for himself, in the first place.
Before I book my flight, I call my brother and ask him to sign a “discharge of responsibility,” with no second thoughts. I well know that my brother and his wife, and my mother in the first place, must have gone through harder times than I did here…
June 7 – Why Flights Should Last Longer
3 a.m. is not my favorite time for traveling; my flight isn’t either late enough, so that one can get some sleep before the flight, neither long enough for a nap on the plane. I didn’t quite sleep these past nights, and now I resent it. The other boarding people around me do not seem to mind the timing. Many of them seem to know each other, from frequent traveling on the same route; they talk out loud, happy and laughing, calling one another, sending wishes of a good summer across the aisle, over the chairs. Lots of children on board … is it possible that summer break has already started? I struggle for a while with my handbag; it won’t fit that easy into the crowded overhead compartment, but when it does, finally, I can fall into my seat.
I am surprised to see my own reflection in the window on my right; the dark vacuum outside is showing, like the back coating of a mirror, a distorted version of myself. Not only time, but also space is playing tricks on my perception. Space and time … neither is my ally.
With this flight I’m leaving my normal life behind, to plunge myself into a new, different, unexpected, never-considered-before reality. In the next minutes, the reality I always used to know begins to slowly drip into a parallel universe, just like sand would slip through the narrow neck of an hourglass, and part of that “normal life” was also my absolute belief that I have an invincible, healthy and strong father.
“Have a good summer…” I have just discovered that it is time what separates us, and not space. I have never had enough time for the important people in my life.
Science tells us there is no time, that it’s only in our subjective perception, but, independently of what science wants me to believe, to me, time does exist. Time has just caught me unprepared, forcing me to deal with powerlessness and frustration, the feelings that overwhelm us when confronted to the unfairness of things. We are all used to take life for granted; the little or big things of everyday life only help us entrench and solidify our illusion of forever and ever, making us lose sight of the real, true things in life. I failed to realize the impermanence of things, of those we love. I kept telling myself that I will make it up to my parents, and also to my Self, for the long separation, for my long absences. Am I still in time for that??
Struggling to keep up with everyday time issues, I failed to realize the true meaning of Time … and now, existential time, higher in ranking value, just knocked on my door. It came to sharply remind me that I have lost sight of Time as universal dimension of existence, the one that makes the difference between the being and the non-being. With dad’s sudden illness, Time is reminding me that I, too, am only a temporary passenger on an impermanent journey. “Time is not forever”, the soul is desperately trying to make the message fall in place for the rational mind, and the stark reality of the passing time strikes me on a level deeper than intellectual. I have lost grandparents and close relatives before, but with them I was “graced” with that necessary preparation time. It was that lapse between hope and hopelessness what contributed to erode the fear, made it lose its sharpness. But now, I feel that the closer it hits, the sharper it gets… acute, like an elbow pain. It is the abruptness, the unexpected, what makes us feel it to the bone, at levels that resonate with our primary, survival instinct.
And now my soul is craving for more time… time for mending and patching, for tightening back the loose relationship, for closer, truer communication. All my life I missed that genuine, soul-to-soul exchange with him … am I still in time for that?
During these past days I kept on overhearing dialogues between my Guilty and my Soothing Self. They keep talking about things that I may have done wrong, things that I shouldn’t have done and said, had I known the vulnerability of my father, had I known that my choice of time was wrong. There are plenty of unresolved issues between dad and me, things that I would have wanted to say, but I didn’t – things in the range of the beautiful and the loving, and things on the opposite range, things that source from old resentments and from newer ones, too.
I may have pestered my father on one of our last calls, a couple of weeks before Easter. Unaware of the bad timing, I had called him that day to talk about a promising opportunity, the possibility to have his active principle under study in one of the best laboratories in the world. This could have been the resolution of a lifetime of strenuous work, dad’s dream of a lifetime. But he was evasive, and I felt irritated, and pushy. Now, I see, I should have been more considerate, given the situation.
“My mind is not on these things right now,” dad said. Then, he casually mentioned: “Did I tell you your grandma was in the hospital this week??”
“What happened? Grandma has never had health worries… I’m sorry, I’m not used to think of her as being sick,” I said, kind of dismissing the gravity of the news.
“Nothing serious, they say. Just a passing weakness… at 96, and she’s still fasting. You know how she is…”
When we next talked, grandmother was already discharged, dad told me.
“She’s fine… she needs to follow the doctor’s prescriptions; they asked her not keep on fasting the whole six-week Easter Lent.” Dad sounded confident and reassuring… actually, more matter-of-factly.
About my proposal of a week ago, he didn’t seem willing to talk. But I knew I had to make him surpass his limitations of a lifetime; as usual, dad’s paralyzing perfectionism didn’t allow him to go out into the world if everything wasn’t “perfect.” I had to try and push him outside of his comfort zone, even if that angered him. But, anyway, how could I know? I felt I had to force the issue. I felt I had to do it because dad is dad, and he is like no others.
“Dad, are you serious about that? I’m talking about the chance of having your active principle studied in a world-famous lab, and you won’t seize it??”
“Why don’t you understand, I’m telling you, for me it’s kind of late,” he said. “Besides, I have been telling you all along, I cannot do it alone. Not anymore.”
“But do you see the pattern?? All these years you keep on telling us that the world is not being open and receptive; you know you already have enough material to show and be convincing – it doesn’t need to be so perfect, dad. This may be your last chance, and you’ll have to take it! Now!”
I hoped I sounded imperious enough. But I couldn’t give up. Not after all these years. True, the moment was not right, but, then, how could I know??
In the end, I concluded that nothing had changed, after all. Except for the difference in his tone, it was just one more of those same repetitive conversations we kept on having lately. I wouldn’t have dared to push him, if I wasn’t really upset by his obvious resistance and well-known reluctance to get out there in the fighting ring, fight for his ideas – a concept that I hold from him, I didn’t take it from anywhere else. I did it from my firm belief that this is the time for him, that at some point, he needs to take the bull by its horns. Here and there self-taught people started piercing some previously unbreakable ceilings, and a renewed trust in alternative medicine is making specialists more open to this kind of thought. I there was ever to be a chance that people be interested in his active principle, this was it, this was the time. And this was what I was proposing dad: work with a postdoctoral researcher in Japan, already interested in his work, in view of starting a research program. Only to find out now that Dad is not that interested. Along the years, his throw in the towel attitude used to make me feel frustrated, exasperated.
I had long decided to not allow myself to fall into old, inherited models of emotional arguments with dad anymore, but this time I didn’t have to: I sensed a kind of weariness, of helplessness in his voice. Instead of accepting my proposal and engaging himself, all I got was dad’s reproach:
“All these years I kept on telling you, come, come all of you! I kept on waiting and hoping, that you and your husband would finally understand and come over here. Your children are grown-ups now. Do you realize the team we could make? It’s great, it’s big, here is where all the world is going to look up to – I have it all here, do you understand? But I can’t do it alone, no more…”
He can’t do it alone… how many times did I hear that before??
“I’m sorry I have to tell you dad, but this is your challenge … you chose it, now it’s you who will get to see it through, not us!” I told him, a little angered that he always tries to place the ball in our camp – in everybody else’s camp, as long as it won’t stay in his.
My voice must have sounded out loud and somehow inquisitorial to him, on the other end of the screen – I myself can’t believe I did that. I wonder if I could have talked that way if we were face to face in the real, not virtual space. But, instead of promptly and sharply putting me in my place, dad said:
“No need of your sarcasm … I have already done what I could, the best I could… alone, all by myself… and my thoughts are now elsewhere…”
Was it my impression, or was it real? Dad’s voice tremored with a certain kind of sadness, almost apologetic on the other side. I didn’t know how attached to his mother dad was… even at his age… But I have known even older men who remain, deeply, profoundly attached to their mother. I can’t recall him being as touched when grandfather was sick – but then, grandfather had been sick for longer periods of time.
“You keep on saying that you are coming, but you don’t seem to have a real notion of time. I’ve been thinking that we never got to take that family picture we have been talking about,” he added.
After the birth of my grandson, dad has been a very proud great-grandfather. He kept updating his desktop wallpaper with the latest of the little boy’s pictures, and insisted that we should come and take a picture of all five generations, from my grandmother to my grandson, who is now two, already.
“This coming Easter I’m going there, be with her. I only hope this spring is warm,” dad said.
“You’ve no idea how I wish I could go with you, dad; but I’m coming in summer. We are all planning to come, and we’ll definitely take that picture, no worry, dad,” I said.
That conversation was kind of different than usual, but also shorter. Dad slipped aside the matters that made his focus for the past decades, to engage me in a heart-felt conversation, the kind that leave me with the feeling that we are indeed in touch. We have never been able to touch, dad and I, levels deeper than skin surface in matters that are close and personal. On my side, I feel I have to be respectful of his will and interests. On his side, he would immediately put up a wall, and communication would suddenly get stifled.
If I put the onus on dad, maybe I’m doing it more for myself: I really need a victory – it’s my battered ego that is craving for it. My world, all like the world around, is increasingly chaotic and I am badly in need for meaning. Nothing of all the principles, ideas and ideals that dad fed us with, brought us up with, nothing seems to still have any value if none of his dreams materialize. I expect an acknowledgment of his merits, at least, if he can’t achieve the recognition of valuable, concrete work. It’s something more than success. Much more. Success is some ephemeral bright light shone on a person – today it is, tomorrow it may be no more. Acknowledgment is something in the natural order of things, long programmed in our basic making. It is society’s basic function of assigning objective value to people and things on a true scale of values.
I, too, have been on my own quest for a while… the middle-age crisis, I guess. All like my dad, somewhere, somehow, I seem to be hurting the same walls, the walls of my own powerlessness and shattered dreams. And, without meaning, my world is losing trueness and trustiness. I may be no more at an age when I still depend on my father, but his values are my values, and I fear that, deep inside, I am still tightly connected to his successes and failures. There is this Sisyphus pattern in my life, the same that I have observed with my father: I keep on building, constructing myself, and then I lose it all, again and again. I have been losing jobs, repeatedly… too very often to my understanding … Times are tense and it’s a bad economy, but others do keep their place, they don’t keep moving around like I do.
I wish it was my fault, that would have made sense, but it wasn’t – like when I’ve lost two courses that I used to give, to another colleague. I spent a whole semester doubting and questioning myself, until the chief of department called me and asked me to prepare the exams in my colleague’s place, for his were not presentable. She explained it all: my colleague had been offered my courses, though they were not in his competence, because, being a man, he is supposed to be under more obligation to provide for his family than a woman would be. According to a widespread concept around here – and in the world at large – women are at their work places just for the fun, so why on earth would they need “equal pay??” Besides, my colleague “successfully” compensated for the lack of academic skills in the required matter with entertaining moments, wildly savored by students, who kept deserting my class to go join his. The “unbearable lady” – that would be me, pressured for real work.
I have, of course, been hit by the unorthodox practices of my woman-colleagues, too. Like the one whom I kept helping for over two years, just out of sympathy … but, then, when string-pulling behind the scenes prompted her as our new chief of department, she made sure there was no more place for me inside there. Professional life is tough for women… at least, tougher than it is for men. Some would use charm and influence over professionalism and intellect. Others would throw to the dogs any ethical considerations to get a firm contract or just some extra hours, like my colleague who drills exactly the same subject exams before, in order to achieve high grading from her students.
I wasn’t always being pushed aside; there are instances when I decided to leave. I felt I had to get out of the places where it became clear to me that I didn’t belong. Maybe all this wouldn’t be an issue with a different kind of father. Not with mine. I need recognition for my high standards and my perfectionism, since dad never gave it to me. But, lately, an insidious doubt began eating up at me: what if this misfit syndrome that runs in the family is the result of sticking on to the “mere” ideals dad taught and instilled in us?? I already know that this is not an ideal world, but I also fear that this is no more a time for principles, so obsolete these days. “Unfit for the world” seems to be our family curse. No, I’m not just disappointed with myself, but with dad and his principles, too.
From here the clashes. I always doubted that I would ever have the guts, but, here I am, daring to tell dad that I am totally disappointed in him – I, telling that, to him!! For the biggest part of my life, I would have had the vertigo just considering the possibility. When did the roles inverse, I have no idea – it must have happened gradually, time erosion, I guess.
The last time I’ve been back home, two years ago, I had, in case I was missing it, a chance to refresh my memories of dad’s familiar, patronizing ways. In my opinion. Because, in his, it’s just the rightful concern of a parent for his not-so-very-bright child.
That day I had just arrived, straight from the airport, and I had barely taken off my winter coat and my boots. Like in the old days, dad took me to the kitchen, to exchange things, while he would make himself a big cup of strong coffee. I could see that he was looking around for something, but he was hesitant to tell me … already an unusual thing for him.
“Mom is not here?” I asked, although I very well knew she was still at the village, at grandmother’s house.
“You know where she is,” he said. “It looks like she hates coming here, to her own home.”
“Maybe she hates to be criticized and being nagged at, all the time??” But I had to change the subject fast, lest he’d start feeling irritated by my insinuations and start acting defensive.
“What, can I help you with anything, dad? If you want me, I can make the coffee; just tell me how you want it.” I knew he will decline my offer: it’s only he who knows to make it just right.
“The matter is… I ran out of cigarettes, and I wouldn’t want to leave you waiting.” This came as a surprise. Dad being nice…polite.
“Why, dad, let me go in your place – I just need to put on my coat and boots, and I’m ready, you know.” I am afraid he’ll understand that I am offering my assistance to make it easier on him – this would imply that he needs help, and he “doesn’t need my help,” for sure.
“Do you have any money?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t had the time to pass by an exchange office. I’m coming straight from the airport.”
“Well, the problem is, I don’t have cash either – I‘ll have to extract money from an ATM.”
“Ok, then I’ll do that for you”, I said.
“Do you think you can use an ATM?”
“Why, dad, where do you think I’m coming from? We are all using ATMs, be sure.”
“But… you need to know my code number”
“OK, tell me.”
“’You sure you’ll remember it?”
“I’m a big girl, dad, and I can use an ATM, secret code and all. Unless… maybe you won’t trust me with it?”
“It’s not that… it’s that I’m afraid that you’ll forget it, or you’ll dial it wrong… then they’ll keep my card.”
“No, dad, trust me, I use my own card daily, and I never make mistakes.”
He tells me the number. I repeat it. Like when I was little, and he made me repeat his words, to make sure I understand, that I remember. “That’s how it’s done in the army”, he used to tell me.
“Say it again,” he asked, coming back from his room, the card in his hand. I dutifully demonstrated him that my memory is still OK, then he handed me the card – I was sure he held it a little longer than he needed. I put on my boots that I took off when I arrived, then I was ready to go, but he still retained me with a last minute request:
“One more thing: there’s a button you need to press, so that they’ll issue you a receipt – hmm… I’m not sure you’ll know it.”
“Yes, dad, I know the button too, don’t worry”, I said, leaving, not before he told me through the door:
“And don’t be long, I’ll be waiting, you know.”
He closed the door behind me, before he could see that I bumped into this neighbor down at the entrance. I couldn’t liberate myself before the “It’s been a long time”, “Yes, quite so”, “You look great”, “Thanks, so do you”, exchange. But, once the ice was broken, longer questions and answers followed, which required more detail. After the questions on kids, work, and the general situation, to which I politely answered, one more neighbor popped in. The same question and answer round happened again, and I couldn’t dismiss their curiosity and attention, I had to be polite – dad taught me that.
I took, after that, the familiar alley past the one-story building of the Polyclinic, to finally reach the “Tower”, a ten-story building that made me smile. I remembered that, seen from the height of our ten year old life experience, the building looked so futuristic to me and my friends, unimaginably tall when all other buildings in the area did not go over four. I found the ATM, followed dad’s strict instructions – See, I didn’t forget the code, nor the button, dad – I then bought him cigarettes, and I was on my way back. Barely one third on the way back home, I saw a slim silhouette dark against the white background of the snow, coming in my direction. It somehow looked familiar, like coming from remote childhood memories. I know I walk fast, like when I was little, and dad would send me to buy bread, or any other little thing, asking me to return fast. With dad, but with mom as well, I always had to hurry, lest he would get impatient and scold me for being late.
It quickly turned into a fast-walking, tall man, wearing a long winter coat and Astrakhan fur hat – just the two of us in the silent, late winter afternoon. It can’t be. No, this can’t be him, I told myself, in denial. But it turned out that my first impression was right: it was dad.
“What took you so long? What happened?” he asked me as soon as his voice could reach me.
“I can’t believe it, dad. You are still coming after me? At my age??
“You stayed so long, I was worried,” he said, kind of justifying himself.
“I was late because of some neighbors, I had to stay and talk with them, you know. You have to trust me.”
“How could I know?”
“No, you couldn’t.”
The thing made me both laugh and cry. For a moment, I turned back being a little girl again, with her dad, protective, worrying for her. Like any little girl. But then, the one little girl that I was years ago, fell in, and she remembered the bitter times. Nothing had changed. After all these years.
After a lifetime of waiting and hoping that his work, his ambition and dream, the one to which he sacrificed it all, us included, would be of any value to the world and finally get validated, dad can’t afford to just kick this chance out of his life again… not this time, not anymore. Can’t he realize that he is now getting closer to endings, not to beginnings? That he’s not getting any younger? He loses credibility and saps my trust with his youth fountain clichés: “I feel young! I’m going to be young even at hundred, while you and the rest are only getting older”, he’d tell me, boastfully, both provoking and vexing, whenever the age subject comes on the table. There are more versions of the same, like: “It’s you who are getting older, not I.” or, “You are going shortly to be an old lady, and I am still young.” Maladroit, as usual. He doesn’t realize that I would have all the rights to feel hurt, if I had a narcissistic ego. Like him, I am proud and believe in the power of our family genes. Jokingly, of course, the duel goes on, each one boasting about own genetic advantages, as if we were two strangers. Eventually, I’ll have to remind him: “Don’t forget that I am double lucky with my good genes, I have them from both sides…” just to annoy him. I know he can’t bear being contradicted, and he knows I’m better off: from my mother’s side, grandfather lived to celebrate his ninety-six, and grandmother, “just” ninety-two.
Maybe this is just a facade; maybe, by claiming he is forever young, dad is exorcising ill-fate: “I’m not done yet, and far from being it”. That could explain why, at some unconscious level, dad still treats me like I was that little girl he used to patronize, unaware that the roles ceased fitting us since a long while. He makes me feel like an immature child trapped in an old-skin, reminding me of some ladies I know, who, with obnoxious face lifts and botoxed faces, styled in unbecomingly young dresses despite their respectable age, believe that they look younger by the year.
Usually we had longer talks. The kind I wanted to cut short. If we didn’t talk for a month or two, he would start right away by telling me about things under his immediate focus, about his latest work, as if I was there, with him, in touch with his latest events, day in- day out. I wasn’t really interested in his impasses, deadlocks and breakthroughs, as most of the time I didn’t understand a thing – but more often than not I was left with the feeling that he didn’t care of what I had to say, blocking me with his casual, matter-of-fact talk.
“Hi, dad, it’s me. How are you, how’s everyone,” I would start, conventionally.
“You have no idea how this thing was long and painful to come. But I have finally grasped it – just last night, I had a great idea – it is exactly what I have been looking for!” he would answer. The rest of the conversation would get to be filled with the details of the issue – the much I cared. Whatever I did, I could never bring him to the heart-felt kind of conversation that I so craved for: hear him say that he missed me. In the end, I would rush it all, telling him I was running short of time.
“How’s everyone?” he would then wake up to reality – the reality that I wasn’t there, sharing everyday life and momentous thoughts with him. But then he would start another subject that I equally wanted to avoid.
“Tell them to come here, everyone, this would the best solution for everything, for everyone – it is here that the start button for a new world is … we could create a great thing all together, and set everything on the proper rails!” he would say, trying to convince me how, and in what ways this could be a win-win solution for us all, my husband, my grown-up children, my son-in-law and grandson included. His grandiose plans, over-sized hopes, dreams, calculations, would make me feel uneasy every time. On the one hand, things are not under my control, and I perfectly know how unrealistic would be for me to hope to convince anyone around to leave everything behind and start the Great Adventure with dad. Everybody is ready to acknowledge dad’s many skills and passions, but also that he has spread too thin, split into too many parts – a general factotum with an unsurpassed talent for failing to finalize and deliver, and one who never consults or takes advice willingly. At the same time, I wish I could do something for dad, help him in some way to cross over this hurdle.
“Dad, I don’t have time for that, you know – nobody’s free to do what one pleases,” I would try to calm down his eloquence and curb his high-expectations. How was I to know that this was his clumsy way to say that he missed us, that he so much wanted us all to be together? But I seldom gathered the courage – maybe, once, or twice – to tell him that, even if we could, we wouldn’t.
“Your personality is too oppressive and unrestrained, dad.”
“Who, me?” He would get upset and feel misunderstood. “Why, if I have never been the most comprehensive, tolerant, understanding and supportive father, I don’t know who else was.” And his indignation was real – he can be so short-sighted with some issues….
I finally understand why he is having such a hard time to finish his work; I think he is too blind to see that he is the one who is standing in his own way. Like with many other things, this, too, should be a strong signal for my own person, pointing at the wooden beam in my own eye.
After the call when dad told me about grandmother, that she was out of the hospital and out of danger, my next call was on dad’s birthday. I was to realize, however, that there couldn’t have been a worse superposition of events; instead of answering my wishes, dad told me he was just coming from my grandmother’s funeral… although he looked so composed, so… matter-of-factly. His only comment was that it had been so cold – and that I do not keep my promises.
“Who would have thought…”, I said, careful not to set foot in dangerous terrain.
“There are instances when time is faster than our plans. That’s why I keep telling you to come, stop delaying things, as usual.”
I know that he refers to that photo never taken… and I wish I could make amends to that… but now, no more…
“I know, dad, you are absolutely right. I told you, I am coming in the next two or three months – I’ll be there this coming summer. And I have a plan…” At least, if we could go on that planed family trip that we have been planning it together, Julian and I.
“Let’s go on a trip around the country,” I say. “Just the four of us, like we were dreaming to, when we were little: you, mom, Justin and I. We never had a proper trip the four of us, and always went on separate jaunts, remember? Let’s try and do it now. I’m planning to come home earlier than usual, so that we can work it out.” This time, I am determined to real, practical action.
“We’ll see about it; just come,” he said, before excusing himself:
“Now I’m tired and kind of cold – the cold I have accumulated at…there… you know how cold it is until late spring??” I notice that he cannot bring himself to say the word “funeral”.
“Yes, dad, I can still remember. Grandma’s house is in the mountains.” I was close to say it was, but I realized that I don’t need to put a finger in his fresh wound – besides, it wouldn’t be correct: her house is still there, my youngest uncle’s family is still there, even though grandmother is no more.
How could I have known that this was the last time we got to “normally” exchange some thoughts, that he would never again be as available as he used me to. Dad has always been available for talking – albeit on his own, favorite subjects. I called him back two or three times, but, most unusual thing, it was never the right time: either he was taking a nap, or he would like to talk later. I didn’t read anything wrong, even though it was so unlike him. Dad has adjusted his life to be more work time than rest, changing night into day, with very light sleeps. I put his unavailability on the account of his recent grief, persuaded that dad was mourning the loss of his mother, in his own way.
Suddenly, the fact strikes me with forceful evidence: I don’t know if dad is going to live to be hundred… I don’t know if he’s going to live to be seventy-eight, his next birthday … dad’s life is in danger. It could be that we will never quarrel, never again…
“Never again…” When did the haunting refrain from my childhood sneaked back? I remember my disheartening, unexplained emotion around this phrase. Once in a while my parents would have a distant relative or friends coming, some from a great distance for some unexpected matter, like one of their kids sitting for an entrance exam, and my parents would accommodate them for a couple of nights. I used to get so attached to the visitors, that their parting left me with too heavy a pain for my little years. I felt the same for the pets that we lost, for flowers, for the trees that my grandfather cut for some reason, for all things that were lost for ever – the never again reality made me cry my eyes off with an early, too early realization of the non-repeatability of things. I cannot say that I thought it buried in the past, because I totally forgot it, and now it is revising me – this time, accompanied by fear. I so took dad for granted. Inside, within my deepest self, I am still the little daughter, my mother’s and my father’s child.
“Coffee, or tea??” The flight attendant is offering a cup of coffee to the man in the middle seat on my left, while she seems to be waiting for my answer. I didn’t notice her coming, as I didn’t notice when she collected the rests of the frugal meal. I may have fallen asleep. To my right, the sky is already lighting up. The horizon line from up here is different than when seen from the ground, much sharper, and surprisingly near. I am lucky; from this side of the plane I can gorge myself on the spectacular daybreak. The rare clouds add drama to the show, and the quickly changing eastern sky has now taken the colors of abalone shell. Ever-brighter, the canvas is changing fast its iridescent colors, from violet and blue-green to fuchsia, orange and pink, only to melt in a sea of bright gold. I can’t resist taking some shots, although I well know that, once I take them, I never go back to see the pictures: “I don’t have time for the past” is my favorite motto.
When I’m at home, grounded in my everyday routine, I don’t have this impression of being connected to the Larger Life, but now, there’s this sensation of elatedness, of expansion that is gradually building up inside. In synergy with this day that is announcing itself with iridescent colors, my mood is soaring. I feel inspired and supported, and I feel lighter than I have been for all these past days. I take this early June glorious sunrise like the promise of a good outcome, a foretoken of new life. “Dad isn’t like everyone else, he’s going to put this one behind him, like he always does,” my inner voice is telling me. “Everything is going to be OK”, my conscious mind chimes in.