A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, January 16, 2006

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.

15 Comments:

At 1/16/06, 9:53 AM, Blogger Amerloc said...

No words for hard times.

But I will keep you close to my heart.

 
At 1/16/06, 3:44 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

We can't pick our parents. No one is perfect. Some better than others. But it does show the world something about our parents when one does what you are doing for your Dad. Bravo for you.

You from OK ? I lived in OKC in bits and pieces of my early life. I have lots of kin in OK, AR and MO. (on my Scots-Irish-English-German side of family not the Polish side of the family :-))

 
At 1/16/06, 6:21 PM, Anonymous Bill said...

You are an amazing and courageous person to not only accept life's hardships, but to tell others about them.

This is a difficult time in your life and I am here when you need me.

God bless and I love you,

B. (your husband)

 
At 1/16/06, 6:28 PM, Blogger Mrs. Ris said...

I so appreciate your lovely prose, the deep and powerful message, and the hope you bring to such a sad life event.

I am challenged daily by the search for and investment in my best self. In the wake of the storm it's easy to get lost.

Thank you for sharing your story. It helps.

 
At 1/16/06, 6:53 PM, Anonymous Jess said...

You and your family are in my thoughts. These are the times that show one's true character, and yours is a credit to both your parents and yourself. Best wishes.

 
At 1/16/06, 7:53 PM, Blogger educat said...

Best to you, friend. A beautiful story of forgiveness.

 
At 1/16/06, 9:41 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thank you everyone. I am back with my hub and kids, and I am exhausted. I hope this wasn't the last time I will see my Daddy. When the oncologist uses the word "exploding" as a modifier for the noun "tumor," you get sick inside.

Amerloc, thanks for your kindness. I need it.

Polski, my friend, I AM an Okie. It is an insular subgroup with its own strange, proud culture. Smile when ya say that, and you may see the dawn. We are filled with Scots-Irish-English-German-Native people-- I'm one of 'em! I can tell you are a person of refinement!

That Bill guy sounds familiar. Hmmmmm. Hey, don't get too familiar, there, pal!

Mrs. Ris, Jess, and Educat, thanks for the kind words. When we are small, our parents seem so big and powerful. But right now, it looks like a good gust of wind would blow my dad over. How did this happen? Why does he still call me "mah big bayby" when I could hold him on my lap?

And the word verification says "obeyfx."

Please indulge me if, over the next few weeks, my emotions are all over the map. I felt a lot better after I wrote about it.

 
At 1/17/06, 8:20 PM, Blogger educat said...

This story really reminded me of my dear PaPa (as you would say, pronounced PaaaawPaaaaw), who called every woman who was his age or younger and not his wife "sister".

I just want to guess that sometimes your dad calls you or others "sister".

 
At 1/17/06, 9:47 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

It's usually "Sis," or "Mah Baybee."

You PaPa sounds like my Grandpa, who dressed like John Wayne and spoke little, but quietly, and with meaning.

 
At 1/17/06, 11:18 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

Your father reminds me of my own dad (as southerners, it's "daddy" as well) in so many ways...

I lost my mom when I was 24. Had to do many of the things that you're doing now in that small town...

 
At 1/18/06, 5:15 PM, Anonymous Marcia said...

Hello there. I came to yours because you came to mine and I'm glad I did. I have similar mini-mall Jesus experiences with my parents when I visit home and it is excruciating every time. Egads. This is a beautifully written post. I'll come back for a visit sometime.

 
At 1/18/06, 10:03 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Dear Ed: How horrible to lose your mom ever, but especially when still so young. My mother kind of put me through it at times, but that is to be expected.

Marcia: Thanks for coming over to visit, and letting me know you came. I enjoy your photos.

 
At 1/21/06, 12:17 PM, Blogger JHS Teacher said...

Thank you for writing this. I hope you have people around you as strong as yourself to help you through this time.

It helps to know that I'm not the only one with an utterly complicated relationship with a parent.

 
At 1/21/06, 8:51 PM, Blogger graycie said...

All my life I wanted desperately for my father to love me, but he never did. All my life I feared him. The hardest part of his dying was that things could never, ever be better.

It is a wonderful thing that your daddy is trying to reach you. His effort, even if it isn't completed, will fill a huge hole that would have been left if he hadn't ever tried.

I will keep you both in my heart

 
At 1/21/06, 10:11 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

My dad didn't often try to hurt me physically-- he mostly directed that at my mother, and he still occasionally is doing it, but "luckily" he is too weak to reach her. The year I turned 17 I told him that if he dared to try to hurt me, I would call the police and I would file charges. And that was pretty much the end of that-- he believed I would do it.

jhs and graycie: We often hear about people who live completely wretched lives because of their childhoods. You are proof that it can be overcome. This is the greatest thing one can do for oneself -- to try to break the cycle and live whole lives. Blessings to you for having done it.

 

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