There has been a well of emotions, for all of us, as we have adjusted to life in response to the Pandemic. Coping has taken on a new meaning for many and I would imagine, for those of us who write, we write more to both express and manage the many feelings we have had throughout this process. In early March of this year, here in my corner of the world, we began to shelter in place as the virus began to make its way through our state. So much was unknown and frankly scary. Many, in my immediate area, have not taken the virus seriously. There seems to be many who hold tightly to the politicized messages around mask wearing and social distancing. As we enter December, like much of the country, our case numbers, related social issues, and deaths have risen. We are preparing to navigate the Winter months ahead with the virus still in our midst.
In the beginning, of this adjustment, I found my way back to writing. Today I have chosen to share a writing that was created in response to a prompt found in a class by author Rayne Hall. The prompt was to identify the “quiet heroes” who were helping you through the pandemic. Those that gave you strength. While the quiet heroes of our world, were (and are) our essential workers and medical professionals the assignment was to identify those who brought you personal strength. In those early “scary” days I found my strength in the place I always do. In the roots of my history and the teachings of my father.
My writing follows:
I woke to a gentle conversation. I wasn’t surprised to see him there. Still dark out, the outline of his cap and relaxed posture brought familiarity and comfort. He was there sitting with one leg crossed over the other, the way he always sat when he was waiting. When I reflect on it now, the conversation seemed common-place. As if he had never left. An easy flow, of shared experience that had been in place all along. I heard my own voice ask “what do you do there Dad”? It was asked as if it were a casual and normal part of life to see him sitting there on the corner chair in my room.
He, instead of telling me, seemed to show me. I, without awareness of a transition, felt myself flying over mountains and beautiful streams. It was as if I were behind the eyes of the most treasured bird, feeling a part of everything, safe and finding freedom in flight. Dipping with the sway of my body as it swooped and peaked over trees and rivers, I felt his strong and gentle presence with me but (more so) all around me. No further words were exchanged. They were more felt. I have missed him. Thinking of him often, in the days since the virus made its way here. The days since quarantine began. I have wanted so badly to talk with him. To hear his thoughts and his reassuring words. Words delivered in his low, patient, and steady speech. Speech that always beckoned me to listen. Even when I was in trouble; his words reassured me that the consequence was there for me to learn.
He is the most honorable person I have known. And it is his presence (in the roots of my youth, depth of my memory, and my spiritual connection to him) that allows me the strength to manage this situation. I don’t know if he was there in spirit or only in the mind of a daughter deeply in need of his comfort. What I woke remembering was his example in life, his teaching, and his expectation that when hardship comes – you meet the challenge. Further you meet it with without complaint, with kindness, hard work, and selflessness.
When I think of him, finding my comfort through this time, he is (as he was in life) gentle in presence, unassuming yet noticeable in that non-assumption, highly protective, and driven to do the right thing. His presence is with me and leads me (through the teachings of my foundation) to do the right thing in all things I do and to do them for the sake of doing them. If he were physically here, he would tell me “it’s going to be alright – we’ll figure it out”. He would have said that with so much assuredness that I would have believed him.
His true goodness came in his acceptance of others and his deep love for his family. He made you feel important to him, and that was a very coveted place to be. Last week I posted a photo collage of him on Facebook. I had never done that before, and this was in response to a post by my cousin inviting this. She lives in the South where I spent my early years, and much of dad’s family (those connected to his 10 siblings) still live. The comments on the post by almost every person made some mention of how much they loved him, how kind and gentle he was, and how special he always made them feel. That was his gift. He was welcoming and kind, patient beyond measure, strong and capable, and always willing to help. He never asked for favors in return. He didn’t keep track. It was part of who he was and a part of the expectation of his children (all 5 of us). He believed if you could help-you do help. You “look out for others” and “never do another man a dirty turn”. (I think that’s a statement from his growing in the South).
Most day’s dad wore a cap and coveralls as he navigated the workload of farming. On special days he wore his white button up shirt, cowboy boots and hat. He was handsome in that southern cowboy kind of way, often likened to a young Burt Reynolds or James Garner in their western movie roles. His hat and boots were always kept in a special box in the closet. We knew, when he wore them there was some important place, he and mom were going. As a young bride, he “gave me away” in that hat. I have a photo of him, and I, that I treasure from that day. That one wasn’t shared on Facebook. It is mine and my memory to hold sacred.
My aunt (his sister) always said, “your daddy looks like a movie star, but you wouldn’t think he knows that ~ that’s what makes him so handsome”. Dad was always a gentleman and humble in nature. He would not have focused there. His values lay in the love of his family, working his land, (an “honest days work”), always “doing the right thing” (even when it is uncomfortable) and treating people with the dignity and respect that is inherent in being human. These are the values he embodied and those teachings I hold near.
Dad passed away in March of 2001 from pancreatic cancer. It was a painful and difficult process. His strength and incredible will were present throughout the 8 months from diagnosis to his passing. He never allowed anyone, other than mom, to wait on him or help him “wash up”. In some way, unknown to me, he always got himself up to take care of his personal needs. He was much too private to have allowed this help. In the days before he passed, he was unable to speak. I remember sitting on the edge of his bed side, holding his hand, and getting as close as I possibly could without disturbing him. He, with what seemed every ounce of life within, raised himself to kiss me on the cheek. I will never forget that moment. I know my mom has moments like this and I imagine all my siblings, and all the grandchildren, have a special moment with him. He made it a priority, throughout his entire life, to make sure you knew your value to him.
As I go back a moment, to my dream, I realize I haven’t dreamt of him in this tangible way since 2002. It was another unsettling time. Our country was still in the aftermath of “9/11”, and much like now there were many unknowns. Fear was the driving force of life around us. Again, during sleep I had awoken. I “woke” without effort to see him. The clear outline of his cowboy hat was there. (It makes me smile now to remember this). I could clearly see his strong frame, in silhouette, as he stood looking out my bedroom window. I was struck by the way he was standing. His hand was on the upper portion of the windowsill and he bent slightly to peer out the window. It made me feel he had been there a long while, protectively keeping watch while I slept.
I don’t have a hero who is walking in physical form with me. Mine is with me -in whatever way this is. And I am more at ease because of his presence.
In closing, I hope as this process around the pandemic unfolds (with possible improvements ahead) that you have or find places of comfort and strength. If you are inclined to share, I would like to hear your thoughts and where you find this in your own experience.
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