My dad died 6 years ago today. There are days it feels like only yesterday and days it feels like an eternity ago. These long moments and fast seconds of contemplating his life have passed with increasing regularity. It is in these moments that I find what I can only describe as profound humanity.
It’s not that I wasn’t human before. I was. It’s not that I didn’t understand death. I did. It’s simply that on September 4. 2012 my life lost its softness. To those who did not know us, it would be odd to characterize my father as a soft man. He was rough. He was tough. Most would remember him for his steely personality, full of flair but undeniably unchanging.
They say that the way you relate to your father is the way that you relate to God the Father. A rigid, correcting father leads you to believe in the sternness of God. A kind, gentle father leads you to believe in the caring nature of God. Whatever it might be, your father is your example. And I am no exception to the rule.
My father was no saint. Complicated and wounded, he fought through his life with a determinedness that forged on through every season. His life was a fight, one that would be won through the sweat of his brow and the determination of his mind. He was all steal and all metal. This was the father that I thought I knew.
And then I lost him.
I lost the incessant phone calls full of love and guilt and quiet curiosity. I lost the hugs and the gentle nudges to push forward with my next hare-brained idea. I lost the exasperated giggle when I dramatically retold my most recent hyperbolic interaction with the public in general. I lost the softness behind the steal.
In therapy I’m learning that the hardest part of grief is not grieving your memories, it’s grieving the potential of what you lost. It’s grieving the absurdity of the missed opportunity to argue over the 2016 Presidential Campaign. It’s grieving the loss of his wisdom while planning his mother’s funeral. It’s grieving all the hugs and the phone calls that would undoubtedly filled up the years. Those are the hard moments.
But, yet, even this has been a gain.
For it is in those moments of grieving my father’s softness that I see the softness of others. I’m able to cherish the text message from a friend or the late night phone calls. It’s the joy of hearing a friend’s surfing story and knowing that they will enjoy my latest email gaffe with the full kindness of knownness that only time can give. It’s the full celebration of seeing a dear friend’s face after all the years and enjoying the new wisdom in their gentle eyes.
I am grateful for my father. I am thankful that he showed me what it is to be both soft and strong. I am thankful that I can see both the softness and strength of God the Father through his example.
Mostly I am thankful for the community of people that are in my life, both Christians and non-Christians who have poured their lives into me through these long years. Their softness and kindness rekindling in me the knowledge of how deep and how wide and how high is the love of God.
It’s in these full moments of complicated grief I am able to appreciate what it means to be fully human and to hold on to those who are human with me. What a journey, what a gift to be able to walk alongside them even if our paths are short or our journey tumultuous.
What a gift it is to be human together.
So on this hard day I say:
To my dear, lovely friends, you are both salt and light to me. You are my softness and such a deep part of my strength. You help me discover the depth and heights of humanity with increasing grace and truth. I love you. I am thankful for you. You make my joy complete.