My Dad died of cancer nine years ago today. He sickened in the fall and died in the winter, as if nature itself understood. Not long after he died, and with those images in my head, I looked out a window in Traverse City one October and penned the following:
Yellow leaves fall hesitantly,
smothering the once vibrant grass
as the black squirrels gossip their way from
cooling earth to darkening sky.
They grow cold together.
And as the leaves fall to their death
the squirrels fall asleep,
not knowing that others have fallen,
and that I'm not feeling the best myself.
I am much improved since those dark days. His death was a storm, and his ghost has cast a long shadow, but the sunlight breaks through. Since his death I have written to him, knowing that he can’t read it but taking comfort in an imaginary world where I am Odd Thomas and he is looking over my shoulder as I type.
Here is my letter today:
You knew who I was, so you will understand why this story is important now.
In high school I lived for basketball. It was my identity. Each day's quality depended on how pick-up basketball went at lunch, and whether the girl I liked at that moment noticed the poetry-in-motion that was my game. I probably liked basketball a little too much, and myself too little.
I still remember when you sat me down and said you would not be attending many of my games my senior year. You wanted me to know that you loved me because I was me, not because I could put a round ball through round metal opening.
We would sit by the wood stove in the winter, playing Stratego and Risk, but never basketball. Never the idol.
I wish you were here today to tell me you loved me, not because I have “accomplished “ something, and not because I’m perfect, and not because of the fleeting self-esteem builders I do, but because of who I am.
I am a son whose father loved him.
I will always miss you, and never forget you.
And God said:
“Go down, Death, go down, go down to Columbus, Ohio, down in Broad Street, and find Brother Leon. He's borne the burden and heat of the day, he's labored long in my vineyard, And he's tired-- he's weary-- Go down, Death, and bring him to me….”
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away his tears, and he filled the gauntness in his face, and the angels sang a little song, and Jesus rocked him in his arms, and kept a-saying: “Take your rest; take your rest....”
My personal touch added to “Go Down, Death,” by James Weldon Johnson