I recently lost my father – which is to say – a man I barely knew passed out of this world.
We shared blood. We shared memories of my childhood before the age of nine. He was part of my wedding, even though he showed up two days early without warning. He was a short part of my daughter’s life, visiting just once and making the neighbors question our choice in guest. He was a part of my emotions, making awkward phone calls when, though we were states or countries apart, and hadn’t spoken in months or years, he knew I was sad or in need. He was odd that way.
He was odd in other ways, too. The elderly, the very young, and every animal within a three-block radius fell madly in love with him. He was intelligent – one of those people that is just too smart to be normal. He was covered head-to-toe in mischief. His soul shone brighter than most, but was covered in his later years in a shroud of darkness.
Schizophrenia has a way of changing a person from a societal conformer to a mad beast with no filter. It makes the ailed into a receptor for all sorts of energies that are beyond our purview and our line of reasoning. It turns the intelligent man into the paranoid. It burns the light out of a beacon. It turns mischief into meanness. It’s the reasoning behind my dread on my wedding day. It’s the reason phone calls were awkward. It’s the reason he only visited us once.
But I am stubborn in my love for all things broken. And I loved my Father. I loved his laugh and the mischief in his eyes. I loved his impeccable intelligence and his “take no shit” attitude. I loved him regardless of not really knowing him. I loved him regardless of his inner demons. I loved him regardless of the shattered, barbarous mad man he’d become. I loved him because I could feel his constant struggle between the dark and light. I loved him even though the darkness won.
But isn’t that what love is supposed to be? Love IS, regardless.
After I found out he’d passed, I spoke to him in the small hours of the morning, when I’d wake up with faint memories dancing on my eyes, lingering as dreams. I imagine many of us who have lost someone to the other side do these things. We speak to the departed. We ask them for things. I asked for a sign to let me know he was at peace. I asked for a sign that, despite of it all, he loved me in his own way.
That sign came.
I’ve set up a tiny bit of space in our overflowing home for yoga and meditation. I bought a book seven years ago called, “The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have” by Mark Nepo. I haven’t looked at it for years, as I’ve been filling my mind with other sorts of mindfulness. So it’s been sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to pick it up again.
I felt the pull to look through to find the present date and read what it had to say. As I fanned through the pages, I was dumbfounded when the book stubbornly stopped and flopped open of its own accord to a date I never thought to search for: March 10th, my father’s birthday.
My eyes filled with tears at the title and quote. And through those tears, I read the following message:
“The Creator’s Cycle”
“We survive… and then we die” ~ Ojibway Elder.
“Nothing escapes the Creator’s cycle. Not plants, horses, trees, birds, or human beings. Not the life of the mind. Not the life of the heart. Not the life of the spirit. All living things emerge, gather, spark new life, fall apart, die, and emerge in new ways. Each soul is a gust of God’s breath unfolding in the great energy that surrounds us like an ever-moving stream.
The goal is not to cheat death, but to live in the stream with a humility and aliveness that only an acceptance of death can release … Beyond all design and desire, we survive, and like stones that are eroded by forces that can never be seen or stopped, our reward is the pain and wonder of baring our inner beauty to the sky.
What we carry deep within, if we live honestly, will inevitably be worn outwardly. The experience of living this fully has nothing to do with removing ourselves from the Creator’s cycle. Too often, we struggle stubbornly in an attempt to protect ourselves from the friction of being alive, when it is precisely that friction that works our spirit into a seeable gem.
We are more malleable than we think, more durable and changeable than all hope. Thin and fragrant petals do not hide from the wind. They survive to die and break ground again. Even within one life, we shred and re-root. We break, bleed, and rearrange into yet another beautiful thing that learns how to reach. Resisting this process doubles our pain. Singing our way through it is the source of wisdom and beauty.”
I paused, taking a breath, and looked toward the sky with my tears staining the pages. I whispered ‘Thank you’ to him for giving me the sign I’d asked for.
I know my Father is at peace. I know his soul will come around again, or rest easy in the afterlife. I know the message he has conveyed through the art of Mr. Nepo is one of unconditional love:
We must not live a life in fear, but in wonder. We cannot let the world break us, but can instead understand that friction is polishing our souls into beauty. Though our petals may fall, we must take root and reach, breaking free again and again. But most importantly, we must have the courage to bare our own beauty to the sky.
To all of those that have lost love, I dedicate my Father’s message to you.
May my father rest in peace.
May you rest in life, knowing death is not the end.