Lies My Father Told Me
Yesterday a dear friend and I were discussing how convincingly folks rattle off speculation as truth, and how, without some thought, easy it is to believe them. One of my father’s favorite truths was that once you start going to the doctor, they’ve got you. You’re whole life thereafter will be nothing but a series of drugs, and treatments, and trials over which you will have no control until they refuse your insurance, break you financially, and finally leave you living under the viaduct.
This truth was so profoundly and emphatically expressed that when my sister and I heard my leukemia diagnosis one of the first things we said was, “For the first time, I’m relieved Dad is dead.” It shook us right out of a two month reverie of grief.
In order to save my life, which in itself is a remarkable question, I’ve had to examine Dad’s lie. Underlying it, of course, is fear. Fear of loss of control. Probably Dad’s greatest fear. Dad didn’t like to lose things. Imagine this: In 35 years of being a milk man, he did not lose a drop of milk to spoilage or damage. Can you fathom this? Not one, not a drop of milk in 35 years.
Dad had a handle on things, but not over people and circumstances. This made him very uneasy. To protect himself he loved roughly, as if with large callouses fumbling with a delicate, fragile, bobble he might crush. Or better yet, he’d never picked it up at all. The greater the risk in love, the greater the intimacy and care, the more fragile he’d become, until he was the bobble in calloused hands. That was not a place he liked to be—completely out of control. You never, ever know what the other person will do in any given circumstance.
Let me say that again: You never, ever know what the other person will do in any given circumstance. It is the key to unraveling Dad’s lie or any other “lie of fact.”
We receive input all the time. Statements of “fact.” For every bit of input we have a moment of reflection, and then a choice. This happens radically fast, but it happens, and in that moment we shape the probability of the events that follow. Unexamined, you have an semi-conscious life, but examined you are in touch with the most divine will. I don’t want to use the word “control” because will is more a process of aligning your heart, body, and soul, and less about forcing an outcome. Outcome is too far away, to0 great and unknown and risky, but what happens next is always within our grasp. See. I may not know what the other will do, but I do know what I will do. Witnessed, every heartbeat, every breath is a moment of divine grace.
Being diagnosed with Leukemia has been a most amazing input. It’s lousy with opportunity for expansion (prakasha) and reflection (vimarsha). At each moment, I decide what I will do, and shape how the experience will be. I wonder, Dad, what you would think of my experience so far, if you were here. I wish you were alive to see it.
I dreamed about Dad last night. Dreamed I carried his rapidly shrinking body to the hospital for treatment as “L.A. Woman” played in the background. I consoled him, said, “No Dad, they really can help you, it doesn’t need to be as bad as that.” When I arrived at the doors to the hospital he was dead. I didn’t let out a wail, I simply held him to my heart and said, “I understand.” Dad lost his first son in the same way, from infant pneumonia. He died in arms at the hospital doors.
Loving is risky and the outcomes are uncertain. You never, ever know what the other will do. But you can know what you will do, from one moment to the next. I love Leukemia. I love it.