Yesterday afternoon I cashed in a coupon at the Starbucks near my house and, walking out to the parking lot with a tall cup of Anniversary Blend in my hand, suddenly I missed my father.
What mysterious currents carry us. A sudden alertness came upon me that he was gone. Who can say why? After all, it’s been four years. And what’s more, at the same instant I was aware—practically bowled over by the sensation—that I am here.
That was one hell of a cup of coffee, no? But my heart was full. I think it had something to do with getting on a plane tonight.
The 57 years I knew my father could be divided into two parts. During the first 35 years he worked. For the final 24 he sat. He sat in a chair in the living room, reading. He was not unhappy in his retirement, but for him, it was apparently little more than a wait—a kind of transitional period between work and death. He had the means to travel, or to pursue a hobby or seek out new friends. But he sat. His afternoon became evening and then it was night.
I still recall that when I turned twenty-one, graduating from college, I told him I was about to board a plane for a summer in Europe. His only question was, “Why?”
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So forty years later, here I am, in my own afternoon. And if Dad were around and I told him I was heading back to Italy tonight—for the second time since I retired last December—he would probably ask, “What’s in Italy?” Or something very like it.
The last time I went, you may recall, I bid you a fond arrivederci and shared another recollection:
I was eighteen and I’d just seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. It blew—as we were wont to say back then—my mind. Somehow I talked my father into seeing it. Dad was not exactly a wild and crazy guy. But he went to see it and he sat through the whole thing—including that roaring 30-minute psychedelic light show through which the lone surviving astronaut from the spaceship Discovery passes on his way to “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.”
So afterward I said, “What did you think, Dad? What did it all mean?” And he said, “The message is simple, my son: wherever you go, you meet yourself.”
An interesting thing to reflect upon—wise old words your father gave you when he was younger than you are now. But now is when I know he was right. I’m sure that by the time I return from my Italian adventure, I will have met a fellow who goes by my name but with whom I am not yet acquainted.
Did it turn out that way? Yes. Two things happened that would not have happened had I, like my father, sat down in the living room to wait. I partook of experience. And I found out that I liked it. These things may have made me a bit more tedious to be around—I’ll be the first to confess that you just can’t shut me up about Italy—but they have made the light much more warm and bright here inside my own skin.
And so tonight, off I go again. To see the friends I made last time, to explore a little further, perhaps to make even more new friends. Who knows? I am filled with anticipation. I don’t even know what to anticipate. I am filled with fullness.
Here’s the feeling. The other day, I was at a gathering of old friends in the city—with oysters and cold beer afterward, the dusk gathering—and later I was driving along the highway. Straight ahead I could see an electrical storm approaching, vast roiling clouds shot through with bursts of lightning, a first-class cosmological extravaganza. And while this was happening, one of the Boss’s songs came on, “Countin’ on a Miracle.” Along with it came that same priceless feeling: for all our losses, we are here. Anything could happen.
I only wish my father were here to tell.