At the age of sixteen, during my senior year in high-school, I received the news that my mother had been diagnosed with cervical cancer; a malignant tumor had been found on one of her ovaries. She was hospitalized for weeks, but with the help of the city’s best doctors and surgeons, her life was spared.
It was at the age of seventeen, during my freshman year at the University of Michigan, that I received similar news about a malignancy found in my father’s thyroid gland. Unfortunately, the doctors could not do the same for him as they could for my mother.
During spring break, while many college students were enjoying the foreign pleasures of exotic vacation spots, I sat at home and watched what was left of someone I loved fade into the unknown. The mystery of that unknown provides an endless amount of questions. But having experienced the death of my father I say this: I believe one being’s termination is another’s nativity. Without an end, there is no perception of a beginning.
As a result of my father’s demise, I am forced one step closer to adulthood; one step closer to becoming self-dependent. A consequence of his passing is that I am left without someone who provided a great deal of guidance and support in my life. And despite the ongoing pain that I suffer from that loss, I become slowly stronger as each day passes. I would like to believe that my father is resting in a better place; a heaven of some sort, but I find such a concept hard to grasp when the human race is but a comical speck of dust floating in a breeze – one that is trillions of light-years long, with a density that expands beyond the imaginable.
A human being’s time on this planet is brief, at best. And although I may sound cynical and pessimistic, I believe that for every second that I can say I exist, and I am surrounded by those who have given me life and who have provided me with the means to grow, that is a second during which I am able to love. I feel that the importance of now; of enjoying the loved ones you have while you have them, far outweighs the instinctive fixation on the afterlife. It is not just that all beings are interconnected; we are the creations of others.
That thought goes beyond the fertilization of an egg and sperm. The friends one chooses over the course of a lifetime, the hand-in-hand experiences that person shares with his parents and family, in times of sorrow, anger, laughter, and joy, are the entities that make him who he is even after he has taken his first breath. God, that supreme being that is so well spoken of when death is mentioned, is to me a metaphor for the potentiality of human connection and caring for one another. While a Christian’s belief is different from a Jew’s, and the Jew’s from a Catholic’s, the foundations of those beliefs are all centered on the bonds of the human spirit. Who is to say that my God, or the lack thereof, is any less real than someone else’s? Those contrived devices, which may very well be imaginary, have influenced more peoples’ lives than anything real. The emotions that govern thoughts and actions are just as physically intangible. Out of those emotions, laughter and love, even in the face of death, are my choices of action.
Laughter did not come easy as I watched the silky fragments of bone and ash that was once my father sink slowly into the lake of his choosing, but somewhere amongst the peaceful surroundings of the countryside I could feel a sense of recovery; an eventual birth of maturity into the wise man that my father was. When my uncle, a good golfing friend of my father’s, was asked to say a prayer for him, he replied: “when I hear the wind howling through the trees of the thickened wood, I will know it is him… looking for his golf ball.” Amid the flow of tears my cheeks gave way to an instinctive smile.
Down on the shores of that lake is a stone angel, and at her feet rests a brass plaque with “In Loving Memory…” inscribed upon it. And that is enough for me, because out of all the uncertainties in this world; my love for him is not one of them.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.