Father’s Day is around the corner so he’s on my mind. Born in 1925, my father lives near the edge of life’s expanse, it’s outer margin, and soon, I will have to learn to live with loss.
Today, I put in my wireless headphones, headed out the door for a run, and heard an interview with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. My father – who walks two or three times daily, who exercises on a rowing machine and an elliptical – has lived with us for nearly 30 years. I have witnessed him avoiding the edge, “raging against the dying of the light”.
One line halted me. I paused briefly at the intersection I was crossing, allowing my arms to bend, and my hands to cup my nose and mouth as if in prayer: “Sometimes what appears to be catastrophe becomes a strong foundation from which to live a good life.” These words pulled on me, cracking neatly stored memories.
Catching my breath and folding feelings back inside, I returned to thoughts of him. I wonder if my father has been looking at the world through this window, from this edge, for a long time. Perhaps war does this to a person.
In 1953 he came to Canada having served in the military during WWII. He’s rarely spoken of it, often avoiding my brother’s probing questions, declining to watch historical films of the time period. He doesn’t speak much. Less now that he is completely deaf in one ear and profoundly deaf in the other. Though, I do remember Depression stories were explicit, served up to prompt our gratitude. Emigration tales were descriptive, shared to convince themselves they had escaped. But, I’m not sure. I think the war came with them, lodged in the contours, unchecked baggage stored in the body.
He has carried the story of this war on him battling skin cancer for five decades. Last year, he lost half his chin, more recently, part of his cheek – chunks of flesh scraped away to keep the rest of him alive. He tells me that it started a long time ago. He thinks he knows the source – in the navy they were bathed in DDT, sprayed down while naked, to prevent lice. He doesn’t have to talk about the war. It lives on him.
Dr. Remen offers wisdom for living well despite illness. She says that “even what is wrong with us is what we have and that is good enough. The view from the edge of life is so much clearer; what seems to be important is so much more simple and accessible”. She says, “the sick people in our culture are the repository of wisdom.”
What an incredible gift to see the edges of life as the spaces of wisdom.