Monday, September 28, 2015

Remembering Bill

I just finished reading “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I know, I know, it’s almost 20 years old, and why didn’t I ever read it before? I read it out of desperation: my Kindle is kaput and there aren’t too many English language books in the friary library here in Gangchon. I think I held off from reading it because I remember so vividly the vehement way it was recommended: “You HAVE to read this book!” So, just to prove everybody wrong, I didn’t.

But now in the fullness of time I have read it. I think that I wasn’t ready before, it maybe would have been an intellectual thing: a guy hears an old professor is dying of ALS so he goes to visit him. Their teacher/student relationship is revived and the young guy goes to see the old prof every Tuesday until he dies. The old guy is a bit of an Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But reading it these past two days, I am seeing my Dad in the book, remembering his life, and the last times I saw him--at Christmas and then for the celebration of my parent’s 60th Wedding Anniversary in May this year. We talked on the phone the night before he died. So Morrie got to me like he finally got to Mitch, got me to cry.

My Dad didn’t have aphorisms, he wasn’t a professor. But he had some real strong ideas about what was important. I think I would rank his priorities as family, Church and business. As a rash adolescent I’d probably have said “business, business, business.” But I’m getting over that now.

He always looked at the bright side of things. He counselled graciousness when the pain and confusion was making hackles rise all around him. “Now is the time to be gracious,” he said. He never gave up on people, even when he didn’t understand. He was quick to forgive. And he wanted to share what he had; he went to meetings, tried to “get the word out” about the things that were important to him--a new product, or the Third Order, or The Episcopal Church, whatever his wife and children were up to now. He was willing to change. I think he voted Republican his whole life, until he read “Dreams of my Father,” and “The Audacity of Hope.” Then he said, I believe everything this guy is saying, and voted for Barack Obama.

At the end, what I knew of him was his gentleness, his acceptance of life. Yes, he struggled with what seemed to him the totally counter intuitive advice to stop drinking water, especially when he had raging thirst. Yes, he hated not being able to speak clearly and every comment getting the same puzzled “What? Sorry, I didn’t get that, Bill.” But many times he simply sat at the head of the dinner table, smiling and listening while everybody else ate and drank and talked. He wanted to be in the family circle as much as he could possibly be. Sometimes he would wave at me to sit at the place at the table I always believed was his. I felt too uncomfortable to sit there. I wanted him to go on sitting there, offering his endless prayers before dinner, telling his hilarious stories, urging people to eat more, re-fill their glasses.

Every blog entry for the last few months has been about acceptance. Saying “yes” to the next thing that happens living life on life’s terms. For Morrie and my Dad that was accepting death. By accepting that, they were able to live with gentleness and peacefulness. For me, my Dad’s death means in a way I’m now the Older Generation. Though I don’t think I am going to die anytime soon, I want to live so that at the end of each day I can say “Amen.” I have no way of knowing what will cross my path (Jung says the thing that crosses our path is God). I think I can discern the temptations from the calling by applying a simple test: does it bring healing? more happiness? On second thought it’s not such a simple test once you start playing out different scenarios.

I remember asking my therapist: “How do I know what is the right thing to do?”

“The loving thing,” he answered. But more than that he wouldn’t say, only smiling enigmatically as I tried to push him to specifics. Like Morrie, like my Dad, he knew the best teaching doesn’t come from canned advice or textbooks. It is taught from experience.

I pray to be shown the loving thing in all the predicaments of my life.

So here is when I cried, thinking of my Dad: Mitch is saying goodbye to Morrie for the last time “I leaned in and kissed him closely, my face against his, whiskers on whiskers, skin on skin, holding it there, longer than normal, in case it gave him even a split second of pleasure. “Okay then?” I said, pulling away. I blinked back the tears, and he smacked his lips together and raised his eyebrows at the sight of my face” (page 185).

Fathers and sons.

Love always wins in one way or another; “Tuesday’s with Morrie” ends: “The teaching goes on.”


Dan and Kathy said...

Hello Clark. I'm Danny Hanson, son of Ray, and I just read your post "Remembering Bill".and I just wanted to say thank you. Dawn and I heard of your father's death from Gretchen last summer. We were saddened, but full of memories of all that your dad brought to our family. His kindness, humor and love enriched us in so many ways. There was so much to love about your father in return. He was a big man in my eyes, and he taught me and reinforced many of life's lessons, and I was grateful. I still am. It was a privilege to know him. Thank you again for reviving my memories of him.

Anonymous said...

Clark, this is Dawn Hanson Smart. I also want to thank you for sharing the memories of your dad. As Dan said, he was a big person. To us and to everyone. One big smile. So full of life, so generous, so gracious, so much fun to be around. We in the Hanson family loved him deeply. Hearing your memories rekindled them for me too. Thank you.