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Monday, February 19, 2007

In Memoriam

Time worn stairs to an amusement park ride at Oaks Park. Winter, 2003

There is an old black and white photograph I keep that shows me and my brother, six and five years old respectively, wrestling with my father on the kitchen floor. My father smiles up at the camera (and undoubtedly his wife), and he looks happy. My brother and I are also smiling. Though Dad has twisted us into pretzel shapes, he simultaneously cradles us protectively in his powerful arms (a stealth hug).

Some twelve years later, I wrestle Dad again. Somewhere over the years, it has become a contest. Time after time I try my puny muscles against his, and learn new ways to be beaten. But this time, I have spent a season wrestling for the high school team. I have worked long sweaty hours in the weight room. On the mats, I have practiced a small set of wrestling moves until they are habits.

This time, I catch my Dad in a head-and-arm and miraculously – inexorably – I slowly inch him onto his back and pin him. He struggles mightily. He can’t escape.

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen after all of those years of trying to beat my father. Perhaps I thought I would do a victory dance. Maybe I thought I would tease him and gloat. Maybe I thought he would be proud and congratulate me. But when it is over, when our eyes meet, I see an expression of puzzlement and resignation. It is almost as if he had briefly glanced into the face of death and reluctantly made an appointment for the future. Something changes forever. I almost cry. We never wrestle again.

In retrospect, I understand this event as the ebb and flow of seasons. There is a season of growth, a season of fruitfulness, and eventually a season of decline. By necessity, our parents blaze a trail ahead of us in time – a twenty year offset – that teaches us about the coming winter.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost reach consensus. It is par for the course.

The mound of dirt under which my father’s body rests has long been settled and covered with grass. If nature is God’s handiwork, we hope the repeating pattern of the seasons is a characteristic signature - a metaphor for what lies in store for everything that dies. Despite our common sense, we trust that Spring will follow Winter (It always does).

The gospels report that Jesus might have suggested that one good way to think about God is as a father (presumably a good father). Granted, a personified God as a father-figure-archetype is psychologically suspicious, but suspending disbelief temporarily and pondering a God that might cherish my father and wrestle with him on the kitchen floor - cradling him protectively in his powerful arms - is not a bad way to spend a few moments.

It seems beyond belief that a God would care about individual humans – specific meat-beings and their respective bundles of experience and memory – and remember them beyond their physical existence. Yet somehow every human culture seemingly comes up with a version of this story.

Which story is true? Unfortunately, despite all the glowing rhetoric, there is still only one way to find out for sure.

In the meantime, I admire the sentiment contained in a saying my mother found on the occasion of my father’s death. It goes, “Friendship divides our sorrow, and multiplies our joy.”

Someday, when it is comfortable, let’s gather together and tell stories of our fathers and mothers and remember them.

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