Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all.
I have been back in the old homestead, and I've been thinking about where I come from. I come from a place that plays gospel music over the loudspeaker at a gas station-- you can get Jesus while you get Super Unleaded and a bag of pork rinds to go.
I come from a place where one loves God, Mama, and football-- but not necessarily in that order, particularly on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon.
I come from a place whose football team is named after cheaters in the land runs of 1889-- and back in the Barry Switzer days, some would say that was incredibly appropriate.
I come from a place where strangers wave merrily at you as you drive past them in town-- and where you raise two fingers from the steering wheel and grin past the plug in your cheek as you pass another pickup at seventy-five miles per hour on a country road.
I come from a place whose state song was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein-- nyah, nyah, nyanyah nyah! And those city boys got it right, too-- the wind does come sweepin' off the Plain. We call 'em tornadoes 'round here.
I come from a place where preachers see 900 foot tall Jesuses crossing the street to say "Howdy!" to them.
I come from a place where people pull to the side of the road and stand alongside their cars with their hands over their hearts and their caps pulled off their heads as the funeral cortege goes past.
And it's that last part that haunts me now. My Daddy (this is the proper way to reference that person, pronounced "Dayuddee") is terminally ill. I have just spent four days trying to clean out a house filled to the brim with old Wal-mart receipts and newspapers and old FedEx boxes saved for some kind of future shipping emergency-- when the Apocalypse comes, we will have the means to get that news to you next day delivery. I have looked at caskets (18 gauge steel? 20 gauge steel? stainless steel? oak?) and vaults and burial plots in a far off little one horse western town which I will never visit again in a million years. I have pondered the efficacy of chemotherapy for a man who has had three kinds of cancers and congestive heart failure. I have gone along as my mother blackmailed me into attending her megachurch minimall for Jesus and the only way my Episcopal/meditating heart survived it was to pretend I was in the center of one of those tornadoes where everything is quiet while all hell breaks loose all around you.
He is my Daddy. He has always been my Daddy-- even when he once tried to strangle my Mama before my eight-year-old eyes and I called the police but they didn't come while my sobbing brother clung to my leg in terror. Even when my Mama filed for divorce three times and he secretly lived in the backyard in the playshed. Even when his screaming and raging and drinking made me flee the house to go up on the roof to read behind the chimney with a small transistor radio pressed to my ear to drown out the noise. He is my Daddy when he took me fishing and laughed when I caught something. He is my Daddy who wanted me to sing him old country songs on the guitar he bought me from a friend of his. He is my Daddy who bought me a '66 Mustang and we worked on it together to keep it running. He is my Daddy when we would sit watching football and he'd hold my foot and say all of a sudden "I love you," in a conversational tone when he thought no one was listening. He had demons and he had sorrows and he felt things deeply and you just accept it because he's your Daddy and you can't go through life angry forever without it eating you up inside.
Sylvia Boorstein, in her book It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way of Happiness, wrote about how we let our anger lock us away in a prison cell which is actually unlocked:
Sometimes it seems to me we go even one step beyond rattling the bars. Instead of rescuing ourselves, we maintain our position of righteous indignation by recounting our grievances. It's the equivalent to having the key to our cell in our hand, reaching around and locking ourselves in, and throwing the key across the room.
In the famous sermon in the Jetavana grove, the Buddha taught that people who continue to think about how they have been abused or embarrassed will never be released from their hatred. People who can abandon these thoughts, he continued, are able to be loving. I was explaining this to a class one day when a student burst out, "Of course that's true, Sylvia. Forgiveness is the price you have to pay for freedom."
Now my Daddy has a short time to forgive himself, and he's working on it. He told my Mama he's sorry. He's thanked her for taking care of him. He's thought about what happens next. He starts chemo today.
We all now face the uncertain future-- it's been uncertain all along, but you don't think about it until you have to.