A sense of longing…

dadI think many of us enter the holidays with a sense of where we are and where we have been.  How in the blink of an eye we are unpacking ornaments it seems like yesterday we wrapped carefully in tissue and lugged to the attic or tucked in the back corner of a closet.  For me, the holidays this year have brought back a rush of holidays past, or time passed or moments and people passed that I should have embraced and held closer when I had them.

But that is the irony of life.  When we are living some of the best, most poignant times in our lives, we are young and busy and distracted and unaware that these are the moments that living is all about.

The ordinary ones.

For me, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town best embodies these emotions. This fact.  When young Emily is in the “here-after” way too soon, she turns to the world she has left and exclaims:

“Let’s really look at one another!…It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Wait! One more look. Good-bye world…Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking…And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up…Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?”

And when given the chance to relive one moment, her “dead soul” mother-in-law wisely advises, “Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.”

In the same vein, I have been thinking a lot about my father lately. He died over ten years ago and for awhile I felt him everywhere. Then slowly in my day-to-day he faded, like an old Polaroid that seems to yellow and disappear as magically at it came into focus out of the camera. My thoughts drift back to him on and off. I will see a man who looks like him in a mall. Or I can swear I hear his voice in a grocery line behind me. But my most recent thoughts about my dad started with my search for a picture I have of him, I say have and I still believe I do but cannot find it, carving a Thanksgiving turkey. The photograph is a silhouette of his face. He is wearing one of his favorite crew neck sweaters, but the focus of the shot is simply his hands and the turkey. And every Thanksgiving I have brought it out and stuck it on the microwave or the cork board behind my wall telephone. ( I know–totally dinosaur, but I have one.)

I guess I tack it up to feel like he is here.  And to look at those hands and feel safe.

My father was our family’s hub and we were the spokes spinning off the solid center he provided. Dad’s world was black and white, safe and constant. A world where there were boundaries that made sense and lines were clearly drawn.  Even when mine became blurred.

As  a little girl when I wanted to be near my dad, I would most often find him in the basement, seated in his large green leather-like chair. It was the sort that had a stick shift on the side to extend the front panel into a foot rest.  A fifties version of a La-Z-Boy. There he would sit, watching the evening news, a thin veil of smoke around him, his pipe in hand.

I would climb onto his lap, his fine carpenter’s hands slowly opening to help me settle in. As I lay my head on his shoulder, I didn’t care what was on the TV screen.  I just wanted to be near him.

My father was always warm.  A sweater was more than enough for him in most weather. I remember that warmth and the smell of his pipe tobacco as we sat, he engrossed in the local weather and I content to sit on his quiet throne. There was a rhythm to his breathing and a soft tapping sound his lips made on the pipe stem as they slowly opened and closed, allowing bits of smoke to excape with each breath. If I nestled in a little closer, I could smell the faint traces of his Old Spice aftershave still present from his early morning shower.

Today when I smell pipe smoke or even a cigar, rare as those are these days, I am immediately transplanted back to my father’s lap and the security it represented.  His quiet strength spoke more to me than words ever could.

So as I enter this holiday rush-rush, must have and be there and do that,  I am going to try to just be here. This moment. With the people I can hold and hug and love and treasure.

And I will think of my father’s lap. And maybe, for a person or two, be a lap myself.

 

 

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