My father passed away last week and we held his memorial service yesterday morning. There was a time of open sharing and this is what I wanted to say but, at the time, I just couldn’t get the words out. Since I couldn’t share it then, I’m sharing it now. I hope it is good for your spirit.
The Next Great Adventure:
Dad was the kind of guy who never stayed in one place too long. I used to think it was restlessness but, as I got older and got to know him better, I realized that it wasn’t discontentment that set him to wandering. It was a great curiosity and wonder about the world. He wanted to read every historical marker. He wanted to know what special quality made each roadside lookout worth being marked as such. He wanted to see everything and understand it all. He was quick to ask questions everywhere he went. He would go into a diner full of strangers and come out knowing the life story of his waitress and all of the people at the tables nearest his. He’d come home and report about all of it. We would hear stories about rare medical mysteries, towns fallen on hard times, unusual insects and silly roadside attractions. For years he talked about the restaurant that served American Chop Suey. I never quite figured out if he was disappointed or amused when it turned out to be goulash.
When I was living in Tombstone, Arizona I came in to work one morning and a girlfriend pulled me aside. “I don’t mean to freak you out,” she said, “But someone has been going around town looking for you and asking people where you live!” Before I had time to form an answer I heard that unmistakable deep, gravelly voice. “Hey, Frank!” (That was one of his nicknames for me. That’s another story.) There was Dad, standing in the door of the shop. He hadn’t known where I lived so he just started asking everyone he saw, “Do you know where I can find Elizabeth?”
He never got over my “batty old land-lady,” as he called her. His first encounter with her was when we approached my apartment to find her standing outside telling me I shouldn’t go in. She’d smelled gas and gone in to check the stove. “Your pilot light is out and I can’t get it to light again and I can’t figure out how to turn the gas off!” Dad sent us to the other side of the street while he faced the danger. A minute later he came out looking very amused and assured her that there was no gas leak as there were all electrical appliances in the building. That crisis averted, he napped on my couch, bought me dinner, lectured me about my finances gave me a hug that was just a little bit painful and moved on.
That was just how it was. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for months or even years but I always knew he was out there somewhere thinking of me and I knew, if I ever called and said I needed him he would come. He’d grumble and give me a long lecture about “getting my ducks in a row,” but he’d come. He wasn’t always good at keeping in touch with people but he kept those he loved close to his heart every day. Anyone who knew him knew pretty quickly that he had “5 girls he wouldn’t trade for a million dollars – but he wouldn’t give a nickel for another one, either!” Right after he told you about his girls he would mention his friend the pastor, his best friends from Jackson, their kids who once filled his gas tank with the garden hose and all of the others whom he loved.
My father taught me that the world is a big beautiful place that should never be taken for granted. He taught me that my path doesn’t need to be the same as anyone else’s but that I needed to keep moving forward with boldness and wisdom. It was OK to do things differently but doing nothing at all was unacceptable. He taught me that it was OK to fail but not OK to be a failure. It was OK to move on but not OK to be a quitter. It was OK to admit you didn’t understand something but it was wrong to live in ignorance.
Life was a journey to him. One long road trip. Finding yourself in an unexpected place was not a bad thing. All the best adventures happen in unexpected places! Like his wife reminded me yesterday, one of his many famous sayings was, “I’m never lost unless I’m out of gas.”
In the last few years it became increasingly difficult for Dad to get out of the house. I know he was frustrated by that. When he passed I couldn’t help but think he’d finally gotten free of the vehicle that was holding him back. He’s on to his next great adventure now. It is so hard and very sad to know that it could be a very long time before I see him again but I know from experience that some day, in some place, I’ll hear that deep voiced greeting again and I’ll get another one of those hugs that are just a little too tight.
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
If we work on our goals together, they may be a little easier to achieve!