Monday, May 25, 2009

A Conversation With My Father

Memorial Day 2009

Today I had a conversation with my father. I have visited him several times in the last two years because I needed to talk with him about things that I felt only he could understand.

My father died in July 1981 and because he was a Marine who served in World War I, he was buried at Willamette National Cemetery along with numerous other veterans. I know that he is not in that hallowed ground. His spirit is free. Because he is free I feel him with me at any time I turn my attention to him. But, somehow it seemed important to visit that special place on this day. I also watched part of the annual service there honoring all veterans and men and women currently serving.

Last night I watched on Public Television the National Memorial Service held in Washington, DC. Needless to say, it was a moving tribute to the untold numbers of men and women who have stood in the defense of our country from its earliest times, through the horrible Civil War and all engagements since then up to and including the current wars we face in Iraq and Afghanistan. With each tribute I felt more deeply the need to make the trip to visit with my father.

My parents were divorced when I was eleven years of age. After the divorce I made every effort to have time with my father, taking the bus from rural Washington County into Portland. When he was a mail carrier I often walked his route with him when I visited. It was important to me to maintain as close a relationship with him as I could. Through the years as I lived in other parts of the country I would visit him whenever my business trips brought me back to Oregon. I remember so many of the simple things he used to tell me and show me to make some point about behavior or positive attitudes. Still, because of the geographical separation, I also felt I never quite had enough opportunities to enjoy a deeper relationship with him.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons I have made several trips to visit with him in the last two years. How easily we take for granted that important people in our lives will always be there when we need them. The fact is we all move on at some point so it is best that we make the most of our time together.

I have heard often, “When you grow up, you’ll understand.” Or, “When you get to my age you will know why this is important to me.” Well, I have grown up and I am past “that age” when I am suppose to understand those things it was assumed I did not know when younger. And, yes, I do understand many things much more clearly now. One thing I know is that young folks seldom have the capacity to put themselves in the shoes of their elders, and thus really understand them or their needs. I didn’t. I thought I did. I thought, immaturely, that I had most of the answers. Again, I didn’t.

As I sat by my father’s resting place the conversation was not so much words as it was feelings. I felt understood. I felt loved. I felt encouraged to keep on keeping on in my effort to live life with enthusiasm, to embrace it fully in every way I can. My father cannot do those things for me. No one can. It is up to me to refocus on the Presence within me that is my strength. I am the one who must rebuild trust, the trust that knows indeed all things work together for good.

I have been surprised by the sense of satisfaction and solace I have felt when visiting with my father. I have never been one to give undue importance to death and the burial of my loved ones. As I said earlier, I know they are not in whatever physical place their remains reside. Another thing I realize is that no matter how comforting my visit was, I would rather have five minutes with my father alive than forever sitting by his grave.

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