Miracles, Illuminations, Matches
Last night, my husband and I were brushing our teeth and I turned to him and said, "Tomorrow is the anniversary of my dad's death." He told me he knew that already, confessed that he'd sent himself a reminder earlier in the week. We laughed about this.
But there was something meaningful going on here. A grain of effort, affection. On the day after Father's Day, we'd had a conversation. I was upset. Father's Day had been wonderful, simple, perfect and the girls and I had celebrated our favorite guy, but there had been no mention of Dad, my dad. I'd posted something on social, but I didn't bring him up. And Husband hadn't either. I don't blame him. Why would he go and darken a bright day by mentioning my dead dad? He felt he had been following my lead. And the truth is, he had. But the next day, I felt it. A heaviness. A longing. A desire to talk about Dad. And we did. I talked about Dad, but more than that, I talked about how I felt I was doing without him. It was a short conversation, but it was intimate and sweet. And I cried. It felt good to cry. And in those morning moments, my husband learned something: to ask. To say something. To check in. And I learned something too, something I really need to work on: to say what I need.
So that's what I was doing last night as we came down from the day, exhausted, side-by-side at our marital sinks. I reminded him. I reminded him that today would be a day to ask, to say something, to check in. And he has. The moment I woke up, my shoulders tense with anxiety, he came to me and held me to him and said words. "How did you sleep? How are you doing?" I told him I slept okay. I told him that I was anxious. Before he left for work, he kissed me and told me to have a good day, that he'd check in. And he just did. I was walking up Columbus Avenue at the time, clutching a new book, about to get lunch when his name appeared on my phone. I answered. He asked how I was doing, how my day was. And, in the summer sunshine, I filled him in. "I bought a couple new books at Book Culture, I had coffee with Rachel before she flies home, I just got a pedicure and a massage." He pushed a bit, wanted more. "It's always a weird day," I told him. "Not bad, but weird. Kind of daze-y." And then he had to get back to work and we said love you bye.
And I wandered in my daze into a vegan restaurant and ask to be seated outside. I noticed the young married couple next to me, no more than two feet away. They were buzzy and happy, planning a vacation, brainstorming things to do in a faraway place. He had a sandwich and a glass of wine. She had a mushroom quesadilla which looked so scrumptious that I copied her and ordered my own. I pulled out one of my new books, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith. I felt that surge of excitement I get when I crack open a new book and then there it was, the epigraph:
"What is the meaning of life? That was all - a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one." - Virginia Woolf
And I ate my quesadilla and I read these words and I smiled. Inside me, something rearranged itself, settled, clicked. And I read that one line over and over, Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark...
Today is July 12, 2017. Dad died nine years ago today. I remember the day he died well. I was 29. My oldest daughter was 18 months. She wore a little gray tutu that day. I will never forget her innocence, her twirling, the realization I had that she would get me through this, that her daddy would, that there would be life. And, my goodness, there has been. We have three girls now and they are growing so fast and I love them to pieces and they are my sweet lights, particularly on darker days. And there have been some. And today is not dark, but it is dim.
Nine years. I can only see this now, but I have spent the last nine years struggling and savoring and seeking. Struggling with how to live a life without my dad, struggling with facing life and heartbreak instead of escaping it with wine, struggling with how to not be afraid of illness and death and loss. But there's been savoring, too. Savoring tiny moments with my trio and my beautiful man, the sparkly bits of life in flux - because life is flux - but also, get this, savoring the tricky stuff, the stuff I might not choose, but the stuff that is mine. And then the seeking. Whoa boy.
I am a seeker. I am a seeker like Dad was. When I was a girl, I turned to Dad on a flight somewhere and I said, "What is self?" and oh do I wish I remember his answer, but I don't. What I do remember is his mustache-smile, the twinkle of recognition in his pale blue eyes, eyes I have, eyes my girls have. I seek. I probably over-seek. I wonder about big things. I wonder what the meaning of life is. I buy silly books and profound books, swim in self-help and philosophy like the best of them, and in the end, three humbling words blink within me: I don't know.
I don't know.
As Woolf says, maybe there is no great revelation. Maybe the meaning we are seeking lives in the daily miracles and the illuminations and the matches struck unexpectedly in the dark. I believe this to be true; I find great comfort in this.
When I see fireflies, I think of Dad. They glitter in the garden at night and I say to Dad, "Hi hi" because that's what he used to say.
When my youngest daughter fell suddenly and inexplicably head over heels, passionately in love with Doritos - which was Dad's #1 snack food - my heart grew.
When my middle girl, who swam in my belly as he left us, said, at the young age of 4, "I'm sorry you don't have a dad, but you have us," I was overcome.
When my oldest girl swears she remembers Dad, I humor her, knowing she was only 18 months when he died, but then she says, blue eyes bright and true, "I remember him showing me his ducks" (he was an avid decoy-collector and went to an auction the day he was diagnosed).
And my favorite story of all, the one that gives me shivers: The day of his funeral at his childhood farm, I was six months pregnant. I'd spent all morning editing the remarks I'd give at the service, about how Dad had read me Charlotte's Web when I was little, how we'd read it and cried together and discussed life and death and mother nature. Anyway, I printed the pages and was racing to get ready, standing at the sink in my black cotton maternity dress and I looked down. On my shoulder, there she was, a sweetie-pie spider, a Charlotte.
Flickers of meaning, of magic. If we look. If we are willing to see.
I don't know. And I do. There is meaning tucked in our moments and in the cracks of our days. And today is hard and strange and absolutely gorgeous too. I sit here now writing words because this is what I do, what I must do, how I seek and find and feel and heal.
And I miss him. I will not stop missing him.
I hope the fishing is good where you are, Dad.