Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January 7, 1980

My father died almost 30 years ago today. I was 21 and in college. He was the universe to me. And then it vanished.

I had spoken to my father on that Friday evening. He was at home in Hawai'i and I was living in Chicago. He was aged, ill, and blind, and I worried about him constantly. He was old, I was young, I figured this is what the healthy and the young do, we worry about the sick, the infirm, the elderly.

I called on that Friday to see how he was, and then he said something curious, something that surprised me. He said "Well, you know, your grandmother isn't getting any younger, and I worry about her every day." At that moment, I realized that while I had worried about him for the better part of 21 years, he had spent even longer worrying about his mother. He was someone's child, just like me. And in that instant, I released all my worries for the first time in years. This was the gift of knowledge, perspective, and empathy. A gift he gave me. That worries never start or stop a thing, they are just worries. And that he and I, we are strands of the same thread. Two children, of two different parents, but the same.

On Monday, I went to work. It was a cold January day in Chicago, on the lakefront. The winds skidded and blew gathering dust and trash in lazy verticals. All day long I felt something, but I didn't know what. Suddenly the work day was over, and I walked from the Art Institute to Michigan Ave to catch a northbound bus. The lazy verticals of the morning had turned into small isolated fits of fury, tiny cyclones here and there.

Time seemed to thicken. Every sound, suddenly muted. Everything in slow motion. I got on my bus and looked through the front windscreen and noticed the sky. For the first time all day, I noticed the sky. It was a surreal blue. A calm and other worldly hue. And quiet, the world was quiet.

And I knew he had died.

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