Peace At A Noisy Moment
He died an angry man. Or perhaps a disappointed disgruntled man might be the better description. Despite what his passing meant for me, I will give him credit for one thing though, he picked a time to die that was very convenient for me.
‘He’ was my father, the dominate male in my psyche. A man both exceptionally talented in many intellectual and manual crafts as well as being brutal in most of his judgments. The harshest verdicts he cast upon his children, of which I was the last of seven. None of us ever seem to measure up to whatever impossibly high standards he set in his mind. None of us understood the measuring stick.
His impeccable timing to move along was in the midst of my changing continents and only passing thru North America. In mid-December I arrived home from the Europe after a stint with the UN. Enough time to for me unwrap Christmas presents, drive down to Florida for his final hospitalization, a last good-bye, the inevitable phone call, a funeral, then hopping on a plane for my new gig at an Australian university. All sort of a whirlwind four weeks for me.
Despite my awkward attempts there remained an emotional chasm between us when he passed. I still remained hesitant to openly share my life with him, lest I suffer another series of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and other such evaluation. The stern, Germanic blood in his veins demanded order and efficiency…and above all duty and sacrifice. Perhaps I carried that in my blood as well, but my brain had different ideas.
I had not been an orderly child; regimentation and planning being not my thing. Some of this came from my carefree spirit which led me all over the map from Montana, to California, to Utah, to Florida to New Jersey to Ohio and then Europe. Some it came from a distinct taste for living on the edge which ultimately drove me out of places like California, Utah and Florida. But a mere four years before he checked out I managed to turn it around enough that my new adventures took on a more respectable hue and included picking up a master’s degree as well as becoming a global worker.
Midway in that four year time period I sat down with the man and talked openly about my life and the ways I had not been the best of sons. Going in with expectations of something warm and reconciling, the experience was stiff and formal. The man did seem incapable of displaying any emotion save impatience with occasional anger.
So we buried him that January. As a wounded combat vet from the Second World War, he earned the privileged to be interred our nation’s most hallowed ground at Arlington. Which are higher laurels than I expect to achieve. We said our farewells and on I went with my life, still pissed at the man so influential, but so distant.
Then one day I found forgiveness. Or perhaps it found me.
It didn’t come in white light moment on a mountaintop or in a low-light therapist’s office. It didn’t come in a great spiritual flash or in a Zen meditation. Instead, it struck me in one of life’s most mundane moments. It came while mowing the lawn.
There was my sweaty dirty self pushing that noisy, smoky creaky machine across a weed strewn patch of dirt. We called it ‘lawn’ in a delusional attempt to convince ourselves that certainly it contained some blades of grass in there somewhere. It was one of many routine tasks, similar to so many activities of daily living one does without too much thinking involved. I had covered that ground 30–40 times before so was on full auto-pilot; the ability to robotically perform a task while disconnecting one’s brain to go where it wants to go,
Then amidst the noise and dust a thought came out of the blue; “I wonder what happened to my father that left him so angry”? I paused…..and then I got it. He was just as much a damaged human being as I. Somewhere along the line they took his hopes and dreams. I don’t know how and it didn’t matter if I knew. I did not and could not know what had hurt his soul. At some point in time he must have been an open and optimistic child. Then somebody stole that from him and he never recovered. Something made him bitter, he wasn’t born that way.
Then a kind of softness came over my heart. It was a moment of forgiveness. It was an instant when one springs over a psychological hurdle. It was a passage, a crossing. The low-level tenseness I carried all my life about the man melted away. It was just gone.
So I finished the lawn, sat in the shade of the porch and quietly pondered the day knowing that some small portion of my history had been laid to rest. I was at Peace.