Last Thursday was the five-year anniversary of the day my dad called to tell my mother that he loved her, and that he loved my sister and me, and that we may not see him again. He checked himself into a hotel room fifteen minutes from the other end of that phone call, positioned himself on the bathroom floor, and went home too early.
I’ve been reading through journal entries a couple of pages down from the Cottage Health System Visitor Pass stickers that I pasted to the days leading up to that one.
5 East. That was his wing in Santa Barbara’s psychiatric care unit during Thanksgiving week when I checked into it to visit him 1,879 days ago.
I found this entry from January 12, 2011:
My dad has been gone for nearly a week now. He left with nothing. Two months ago, I visited him in the hospital…and then I visited him in another one. I kissed him when he came to the Christmas Eve service that I read at – maybe the last time he’ll ever see me perform. We watched The Polar Express together. He opened presents with us.
I got drunk on New Year’s Eve, alone, while my dad got drunk at home, alone.
He was always alone.
We are just waiting for a phone call to give us the freedom to mourn with all that we are.
I want to weep, but there’s some hope that maybe he’s still alive somewhere.
But I feel like my heart is lying to me. You know it’s always deceitful above all things.
Two weeks later, we were free to mourn.
To Whom It May Concern,
If you’re in pain today, you’re not the only one. And that doesn’t minimize the suffering either one of us has to endure, but we’re both in pain and alive together. And I’m thankful for you. God, I’m thankful for you. For your life.
Maybe we’ve never met. Maybe you’d say I’d say different if I only knew. If only someone knew.
The holidays are hard for me, and the New Year always brings death into the periphery (or forefront) of whatever life it is that I’m supposed to be seeing. It’s not that I don’t believe it’s there; it’s just that sometimes my faith feels more like cataracts than clarity.
I can get so caught up in my head.
Maybe you can, too.
This Thanksgiving, I thought a lot about my dad. I tried to put my phone down. I tried not to sell my way through Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
I needed to remember that people are not commodities. Tragedies aren’t commodities, either.
Sometimes, I find myself with the same ants beneath my skin that my father had, but I tried to actually be with my sister, and her new husband, and my wife.
With my grandpa, who is trying to remember me. With my grandma, who still remembers him.
With the uncle who used to wrestle me to the floor and made a beeline toward me for a bear hug the day he arrived for the funeral. With the uncle whose garage smells like the cigars he smokes. With my cousins and all their comings of age, and my aunts and all of their giggles.
With my mom, and her new fiancé.
Can you believe it?
Five years to the month past weeping at a funeral, and we come to gather for laughter at a wedding.
Redemption and new life and joy and new love, and my mother’s eyes are shining.
The contrasts are sharp.
I wonder whether there’s more black or white on your canvas today?
“Living kills you, you know?”
My friend said that the other night, ringing in the New Year. I think it was a joke. We’ll call it truth.
Living kills you.
I didn’t love 2015. It felt like a wash. It felt like too much to drink on too many nights. It felt full of fear. It felt categorized and paralyzed by that fear. And disillusionment. And atrophy. It felt like foggy mirrors and frosted windows. It felt like too many fights with my wife, too little trust in my heart that she’d love me if I was who I am. Too much of trying to make people like me like me love me love me. Too much of a twitch for validation. Too many thoughts on giving up. Too scary close to coming back to the places that make death more enticing than life.
I know that a ball drop isn’t salvation, but I also know that I don’t want to stay in these places. And I know that it does drop. And I know it drops with other people who are living and dying at the same time, but we’re alive.
I want to dance with you.
My friend gave me a journal to write in for the New Year. This was handwritten before it was transcribed because another friend took to theme 2015 “analog” and reminded me that if time is money, it’s an exponentially higher currency, so I’m trying to slow back down and out of the frenzy. They’ve both seen me in all of my death and life and the headspaces in-between, and I’m thankful for their love.
Maybe faith will move mountains, but love has moved my heart, and I think that would prove to be the greater miracle.
I wanted to write to tell you my story today and to say thank you for being here. And to say that I love you.
I hope it’s something.
I understand if you struggle against feeling like it isn’t. Maybe you wrestle with whether you’re worthwhile.
I understand that struggle, too. And today I’ll be the one trying to remind myself that my entire identity isn’t wrapped up in how many people love me back. I wanted to write to say thank you and I wanted to write to say I love you and I wanted to write to say that you are valuable above and beyond what I stand to profit off of your resonance with these words.
No matter where you find yourself in the contrast of this year, or how long the shadows seem to grow, or how many thank you for yous you receive that don’t quite seem to convince you that they mean it or that their meaning it means anything to you, or how shitty life gets, and no matter how many bad words you use for bad things they never seem to quench the thirst for what’s beyond the circle –
I beg you –
You are loved today.
Crafted into all of the molecular fabric that is exactly, purposefully, intricately who you are and uniquely everything that you were designed to be.
It’s next to impossible for me to consider myself designed and grafted into a family. But my wife keeps reminding me, and the spirit keeps speaking comfort:
“Mine – and I delight in you.”
To Whom It May Concern:
We delight in you.