Monday, October 1, 2012

What Is Permanent

Dear Oliver,

I want to tell you about someone you will never meet but who you will hear about your entire life.

Your grandpa (my dad) was very conservative. He thought Bill Clinton was the devil and that Rush Limbaugh was a modern apostle. The year Barack Obama was elected he almost left me in Memphis, Tennessee on a cross-country roadtrip because I told him I was considering voting for him.  He only watched Fox News and his celebrity crush was Ann Coulter. I would argue with him about the importance of social services and question why he cared about babies before they were born but not once they were out in the world and he would stump me with his own questions about how we were going to pay for my "hippie Utopia."

I loved my dad.

I was constantly reminded from an early age where my father stood on all things political. I am really going to try my best not to influence you like I was influenced. (Not saying my father was wrong or right, just wish I had a little more variety in my lectures from him on how the country works. He wouldn't even put on CNN in our house.)  I would like you to have some thoughts of your own but it's probably a lost cause. What we believe in always comes out in the end. But I will try my best.

One thing I regret telling your grandpa is that I didn't think I believed in God any more.I told him this a couple of months before he died. Your grandpa was stubbornly Baptist, and very knowledgable on everything Biblical. In his lifetime he probably read the entire Bible at least half a dozen times. He loved Jesus very much. One of the great highlights of his life was going to Israel when he was in the Navy. He walked where Jesus walked. Dipped his legs in the river Jordan where Jesus was baptized.

I enjoyed those stories very much. I wish he could be here to tell them to you. He was the best storyteller. Ever.

He was not thrilled with my heathen proclamations. Not that I would call your grandpa a fundamentalist by any stretch of the imagination. He smoked. He cussed like the ex-sailor he was. He didn't drink much but it didn't bother him when others did. He knew many obscene jokes and had a pretty fantastic and very secular sense of humor. But the man did not joke about Jesus. They were truly homeboys. But most importantly, my father would never ever ever ever disown me because I didn't agree with him on something, even religion. Besides your own father, no one else has ever loved me so unconditionally.

My father and I would battle it out. Not over things like dinosaurs and the age of the Earth. More about suffering. Why did we have to suffer? Why were we put here in the first place? Why did we have to guess correctly in order to go to heaven? Why am I right and a Muslim is wrong? Maybe the Jews have it right. Maybe the atheists do. Maybe we're just a bunch of fleas living on an organism that lives on an organism that lives on another organism. (I thought of that one when I was "under the influence" of a certain fungi in my early 20s. Please don't ever do drugs, son.)  Maybe we're in the Matrix. Maybe we're in purgatory. But either way... Why, if the good Lord is so good does anyone have to suffer? It's a very elementary question but Dad always had an answer:

"We're paying for the sins of the father. Bad things happen because we have done bad things. This is a temporary place we are to learn to trust God. He wants us to depend on Him and not the world. He wants us to love one another like He loves us."

It made little sense to me. So I decided it was all bullshit. Religion was something we clung to so we could get out of bed every day. Typical juvenile philosophy. I thought I was so smart.

(You will go through a phase like this too. I dread your teenage years when you will tell me 2 horrible things for the first time. Those things being "I hate you!" and "I don't want to go to church, I don't even believe in God!" You will say them and I will cry.)

Then one day, a horrible thing happened and it happened very suddenly. Grandpa died. I have written about it and won't write about the details again, but it was a horrible day. It was the defining day of my adult life. I thought.

It was a hurt so deep I cannot describe it to you. It has been over three years and I still cry about it a couple times a month. The thing about this wound is that sometimes the happiest moments in life can open it back up and make my heart sting.

Things That Remind Me of My Dad and Make Me Sob Like a Baby: (Or Like an Ollie):

--- The last scene in Field of Dreams
--- Seeing little girls holding hands with their dads in public places
--- The word "sweetie"
--- His ball glove. It's older than I am. I will show it to you. It's in a box and I pull it out every now and then and put my face in it. It smells like my childhood.
--- People dying of heart attacks in movies
--- Dads dying in movies
--- Sheena Easton's "Morning Train" (He sang it to me when I was very small but changed the lyrics to "My daddy takes the morning train")
--- Passing a softball complex
--- Packs of Virginia Slims. (That is seriously what your grandpa smoked. Not even kidding)
--- The soundtrack to A Chorus Line (No, grandpa was not gay.)
--- Seinfeld re-runs
--- George Strait's "A Father's Love." He sang this at your great-granddaddy's retirement party.

And really... about a thousand million billion other things.

But that defining moment? It got replaced. On June 8, 2012, that horrible day got replaced with a great one. The greatest one.

Yes, Oliver. Your birthday. You came that day and my heart was mended in a way that nothing else had been able to. Everything else had been bandaids.

I don't cry as much. I don't question the Universe much either any more. I don't know if I ever really stopped believing in God. I think it was a weird way of showing my dad I didn't have to believe in something just because he told me to. I wish I could apologize to him for that. I wish I could apologize for a lot of things. Sometimes I think I was a pretty lousy daughter.

I see your smile and hear your laugh and look at the tiny indentations in your very tiny knuckles and wonder how there ISN'T a God? What else could have made you and me? What else could possibly have made any of us? I understand why people doubt, and I still have plenty of doubt but... you're so f'ing beautiful, I don't know any other explanation. I am Baptist to my bones, I guess. Dad wins again!

 God might have sent the world Jesus but God sent you just to me. And I just can't wake up every day thinking that there wasn't a purpose and plan. I can't wake up every day and not know I will see your grandpa again. I cannot wake up every day and not know I will be connected to you for all eternity, my little baby. You have made me believe in things again, my darling sweet boy. Jesus might save my soul, but Oliver, you saved my life.

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