A few days before my dad passed away (two years ago now and a story which, if I ever really get back to this, I'll surely write in detail), he relayed to me an amazing dream he'd had.
Near the end of his life, I began writing down and recording the things he said, particularly when I thought I might forget them or that they were especially valuable. As he relayed the below, I cribbed it into my phone, in outline form, attempting to be inconspicuous about it for fear of breaking his concentration.
For the first time, I'll attempt to turn that outline into something more readable. It won't be perfect, because there is a lot of context to that last week or so I'd need to give to really set the stage. But it'll be OK, I think. In fact, maybe it'll be better without the context.
In his dream my dad had died and arrived in heaven.
He told me that, upon arrival he was greeted by Thomas, disciple of Christ. Thomas was with him in a room with many doors, each one numbered. In arriving, dad had come in through door #14, that seemed important to him. Thomas explained what my dad called "the truth about heaven." That truth being that each of the numbered doors represented an alternate reality, what my dad called a "layered multiverse."
Dad relayed Thomas' words, "Through each door are alternate yous in alternate worlds." Thomas explained that humans have been seeking to understand and explain these multiple realities for eternity, and their attempt, and ultimately inability, to do so was the genesis of the various religions of the world. Several had got certain parts right, but none got it perfect. Thomas noted that the physicists of the world were the "truest" priests, and that they were very close to truly figuring things out.
Finally, Thomas asked my dad if he had any questions. Dad wanted to know four things, in the following order:
- Could he see his mother and father?
- Was it OK to doubt?
- What age are people in heaven?
- Do people eat in heaven?
Before I get to the answers my dad got from Thomas, let me break narrative stride for a moment (that is, if I ever had it). Yes, dad said the words "layered multiverse." Here was my dad mixing things he loved, misunderstood, desired and feared... all jumbled. His love of science and science-fiction, his misunderstanding and fear of Christianity, his desire to have had more time with his mom & dad, his feelings about his current condition. When I reflect on the dream he relayed to me, it is simply dripping, overripe, with what I imagine was in his head in those last days...
So, according do dad, how did Thomas respond? Like this:
- Yes, dad's parents were there & he could meet them immediately.
- Thomas explained that almost anyone would surely doubt. I could tell in his tone that this "permission" from Thomas was important to my dad.
- There is no age in heaven. To each person, those they interact with are the age at which they best remember interacting with them when alive.
- Eating is optional, but totally unnecessary.
In his dream my dad had died and arrived in heaven.
In real-life, he would only live another few days.
One day I'll write about it properly.
I wrote quickly. I likely wrote poorly.
It's Saturday morning and we're getting ready to take Cohen to baseball practice.
He's six. Keaton is eleven.
Sometimes that's hard for me to comprehend.
Listening to the Grateful Dead channel on satellite radio.
Just got back from a week-long vacation at Disneyland (for Keaton's birthday).
Decided I'm going to wear flip-flops today despite the overcast skies and chilly temperature.
A lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same.
I want to start writing again, mainly because I think it'll help me re-assert my forfeit claim on my own time.
I figured maybe I'd start small, something easy.
Try to keep it up.
Not giving myself the best odds.
To hate the way everything needs to be "calendered," the way that my free time tends to be parted-out in snatches here and there. These days I get the greatest sense of relaxation and freedom-from-commitment when I have exactly nothing scheduled. I can have things planned, just not scheduled. Knowing that I have to get something done, or go here or there, at some point over a weekend is not as bad as knowing that I have three successive "appointments" which will consume my entire Saturday.
Call it my internal protest against how wall-to-wall we tend to book ourselves. Even leisure can loom like an obligation if it's very neatly planned to occur in the three hours between the trip to Home Depot to replace a screen and the promise you made to help a buddy replace a dishwasher. It's also partly my strange obsessive notions about time and getting things done. I like to be done with something. When I'm finished with something I like to take step back, admire it, and enjoy a quick moment of zero-obligation.
At work I'm usually booked in thirty-minute increments, and more often than not my entire day will be a series of quick-turns between the current meeting and the next. Over and over again, each minute of lateness becoming additive with successive obligations and no breaks in between. It's not rare that by 4:30pm I'm running a full 7min behind and I've still not had a spare moment to answer email or make a phone call. Sounds silly to say this is tiring when there are guys digging pools all day in Florida, but it is.
And so work has soured me on the whole thing. Even if the obligation is to go somewhere and have a good time, I'll sometimes be put-off by the "deadline." Silly, huh?
Sometimes, particularly while on long flights or during periods of prolonged separation from my wife and kids, I experience certain quick moments of intense emotion. Like flashes, during these minutes it seems like I’m experiencing all the guilt and shame of all the wrong I’ve ever done all at once. From childhood to yesterday, I seem to feel bad about it all. An un-willed gust of self-flagellation in penitence for everything “I’m sorry” can’t cover.
This fleeting sadness and guilt is always accompanied by the strong desire to hide away and take shelter. In those moments when the total weight of my life’s sin feels stacked upon my head like a column I want nothing more than to be with my family, away from everything and everybody. To take my wife and my kids and go and shelter in the amazing sense of safety and peace I feel when we’re together as a unit. When faced with these moments, nothing could be more soothing or restorative.
I occasionally think this is how I’ve learned to cope with feelings I otherwise have trained myself to overlook. Like pulling Band Aid off all at once or something.
My father is dying.
He has a type of blood cancer and the doctors don’t think he’ll live much longer. We’ve known for a while but I don’t write anymore so I’ve not written about it. The disease is playing out pretty much as expected.
Last year I helped move my parents from Oregon to our old house, while we bought a new one only a few miles away. We found out about the cancer just after they’d settled-in. I honestly think this was God’s plan. Early on I used to think about how nice it would be for us to have my folks close, but in the end I think it was we who are meant to be there for them.
Mostly dad is just very tired. Happily, we’re able to spend plenty of time together. We barbecued in a park just a few weeks ago. Since our time together is fairly normal, it’s easy to think that things aren’t really all that different. I don’t think I’m deluded, but it is easy. I’ve committed myself to sharing as much time together as we can and we’re doing that, but often I think I’m still unprepared.
Back to those moments of distilled repent I opened with, perhaps my pointed way of dealing with heaps of unrealized consequence. I have this sense that I’m beginning to process the eventual loss of my father in the same way. In certain moments lately I find myself in pointed crushes of loss and sadness. Fleeting, but raw and strong. I feel suddenly awash in some fondness of memory, some wish for more time that’s not even yet expired.
And I cry. Which I don’t do. I did today, on the plane, watching Life of Pi when Richard Parker walked unceremoniously into the jungle. I did a few weeks ago sitting at home on the couch. Then Sharaun was next to me and she did her best to comfort me. I thought I could see just a bit of surprise on her face, her realization, I think, that however OK I act about things this will hurt. She did, though, comfort me.
I know she’ll be there. So will Keaton in her perfect way and Cohen in his perfect own. My brother and his wife, my mom, all of us. The family balm. Come whatever, I gain strength from them and take great comfort in knowing they are a life raft in rough seas.
Until later then.
When I look back and try to figure out what single thing, if any, is responsible for me not writing anymore - it's a feigned exercise. There's no mystery, it was the RV trip. I just got way out of habit... and don't feel compelled to go back. Nothing, even folks occasionally telling me they'd like to see me writing again, really sways me much. I'm just done for now.
There are things I miss about it, mostly the archival nature of old posts (and mostly not the self-indulgent soliloquy that I look back on with growing embarrassment). I feel bad that one day down the road I'll be able to look up posts like this one to help me recall when Keaton's verbal skills were turning from words into rudimentary sentences but won't have a complimentary post to help me remember when Cohen began doing the same. (For the record, Keaton was 19mos when I wrote that and Cohen is now 18mos... he's got quite a few words but isn't quite idea-stringing like she was.) Anyway I think I'll miss being able to look things up in that sort of "index" to the past I had when I used to write every day.
I also miss the "release" of writing. It was a great break from the tension of the day. I've become bad at this, releasing tension.
I've atrophied; become bad at drawing every last bit of joy from each day and instead become focused on "point happenings" in the future. My brain says, "Just four more weeks of work and then we'll have that weekend camping trip. Then it's another month and I'll take that week off when Sharaun's folks are in town. Oh, and, won't next Thursday night's happy hour be a nice break... only a week or so more of this." There was a time when I was better at this, I stopped. Lately I'm doing better. Striving to re-establish good habits. Put the computer away at night. Read at least one chapter to Keaton. Spend at least 20min on the floor with Cohen. Pull the bike out at least once a week and get around.
I fear that, looking at time stretched-out in front of me like a series of anticipated events dropped thin along a linear timeline of "must do" humdrum, I'll miss the good stuff that happens every day. We must be deliberate. Must remember that the magic that is now is gone tomorrow and if I miss that game of Chutes & Ladders with Keaton tonight I might miss it forever. We must be selfless. My work-time can and should happen at work. I must be diligent and keep it there. Must be involved. Television doesn't count towards together.
Gonna make it better guys. Gonna work on this sort of thing before I get down to "writing" on the priorities list.
I like to think I'm deliberate.
That I labor over decisions, both big and small. That I'm meticulous and make well-counselled decisions.
In something approaching 50% of the time, though, I think I operate more on impulse. This tends to be OK, as I trust myself in most matters. Deliberate, impulsive, these are things I'm used to both striving for an being, respectively. One thing I'm not, or at least up until recently have not been, accustomed to is calling. A decision calling to me is something than an impulsive one. Impulse is fleeting; I didn't buy those new $150 earbuds even though I liked them and seem to collect such technical doodads - better judgement, nay, deliberate decision-making, intervened. A calling, on the other hand, does not fleet.
When there's this feeling... in your chest or somewhere approximate. It's a nagging thing, isn't it? Even tainted around the edges to make you feel like not doing it is somehow wrong. A calling, being willed from the inside or some outside force, as near physical a thing as a pinprick. I was called to do the RV trip, did you know that? I don't say it, but I felt like we were supposed to do that; meant to bond and explore. Yeah sure, you're thinking that I'm likely also "called" to my daily bowel movements, that I'm some crystals and auras new-age type getting messages from the Pleiades. I'm not; as much as one can impartially judge themselves as such a one. I knew that trip was the right thing to do, while on it everything felt right, and looking back at it there's no denying the overall correctness of it. It was a calling I chose to heed.
Is "calling" even the right word? Not sure. When someone chooses the seminary, what's that... a calling? A desire? How do you tell the difference. In my life, I also desired (greatly) that past summer's trip. Called, or wanted? Maybe it's the persistence of the feeling that leads me to want to dub something a calling versus a desire. I desire a steak, medium rare, salt and pepper only. I'm called on a journey. What does one do, then, when one feels some compelling urge to do something seemingly irrational... like a drastic career and scenery change?
Why do I daydream about teaching middle-school math in upstate New York? What is that kind of fantasy. I even see the town in my head, all Bedford Falls and Mayberry. My kids know your kids and your wife and mine are in the same PTA meetings and church committees. I don't work until 10pm. I don't work until 11pm. I don't work until midnight. I don't think about work in the shower. I don't think about work on the weekend. My fucking till balance at the end of my grocery-checker shift doesn't weigh on my shoulders like an anchor. My paycheck loses decimal places. Our saving stalls. I wouldn't be able to do things like that RV trip I was "called" to; I'd have to pass-up the calling because I couldn't afford it. Right? Little devil on the right, little angel on the left. Warring.
I can't even write one-minded about it and I'm just manic-depressive enough about it to where it'll likely never happen. There is this part of me that wants it like an ideal, though. To get closer to my family, my God, my planet, the things I like about myself and the things I feel my time is best spent on. Why waste it working until 10pm, 11pm, midnight? Why waste it rebalancing my 401k? Why sow or reap or store away in barns? Why labor or spin? How long can I keep pretending to seriously ask myself these questions before I give up and admit I'm too scared or convince the family to take the first steps with me? I'm not serious, surely.
Self-indulgent catharsis. Feel better. More coming at a later time. Thanks for reading.
For Cohen, like Keaton before him, walking came (or more accurately, is still coming) late.
His first purposeful unaided steps happened at my parents' place the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe three or four little tentative ones, which I luckily captured on video below, not something really aimed at mobility... more testing the nets. Even now, spending Christmas in Florida at the other parents' house (no, not a divorce thing, happy to say Sharaun and I are the product of two long-married couples), he's just finally getting to the point where he's doing more walking than crawling.
His steps are still fairly straight-legged and deliberate, he ends up on his rear a lot, and he's mostly walking between two things he can grab onto and cruise around - but with each passing day I see him take more steps and appear more coordinated. It's actually pretty fascinating to watch and I'm thankful that it's happening when I'm not at work all day and would miss the subtlety. I still clap and cheer for him in my high-pitched "good job little kid" voice, I hope he doesn't find it patronizing... his enthusiasm would seem to indicate he does not, unless he's far more sophisticated at cloaking his emotions for my sake than I give him credit towards.
I took him down to the park today, where Keaton and I went yesterday, and watched in awe as he behaved almost the polar opposite of Keaton at the same age. I set him down and he climbed the green-rubber coated stairs of the play structure, crawled right over to the slide where he situated himself and pushed off. The first time I guided him with a helping hand, but after he'd walked around to the stairs again and get himself poised for a second go, I let him do it solo. He loved it, slid on his belly right to the end, scooted himself off and onto his feet and toddled over to do it again.
Anyway, below are his first little steps that day in Oregon. I love that little boy.