Archive for the ‘The Family Flock’ Category
My father risked his life several times as a pilot in WW II. I think of him often now that he has left me, left this earth. My father traveled to see the marvels of the world, and loved returning to his home town where he lived for 85 years. My father loved wild goose, venison and raw oysters. He was an armchair environmentalist, so dogs became his devoted companions.
My father was an athlete, a conversationalist, with a laugh that shook his whole torso. He thought of himself as a genius- telling me that he was off the charts when he was given an IQ test in school. When his Quaker friend, John Hawkinson entered the living room wearing tangerine slacks, Dad eyed him dubiously, and with aplomb pulled out a pair of sunglasses to inspect him with. Dad was a lot of fun. But today I’m reflecting on the contradiction of being a committed Quaker and joining the army in wartime.
Dad never talked much about his service in the war. He enlisted at age 20 and trained to be a pilot. I didn’t even realize he was responsible for bombing much of Germany. Soon after the war he let his pilot license expire, maybe the war tainted the joy of flying. He told me that being a pilot came in handy to impress popular women. He once did a loop in a two-seater plane, taking Louise out for a spin. When he pulled the plane leveling it out, he noticed that Louise wasn’t in her seat at all. Instinctively he glanced down, out the side window, just in case. In case what? Louise had jumped? Soon Dad found her curled up underneath the cockpit. He was a daredevil.
The earliest memory I have of Dad speaking about being a pilot, I was 10 or maybe 9. We were driving home from school out in the fields of harvested corn near the Chesapeake tributaries. The air was crisp, I was sullen about increasing demands that I help do housework with 3 younger sisters underfoot. The clouds were slung low. The air was full of Canadian geese honking in the distance. Dad slowed the car and pulled to the side of the road. I looked for danger. The wind had picked up and buffeted a trash bag in front of the car.
“Look at ‘em,” Dad said. With a glint in his eyes, he motioned.
There a flock of 15 geese were descending into the field, the field that last summer was stitched in corn. These geese slowly circled down, their mighty wings hooking the air.
“I love to see how they bank against the wind. Watch them pull the throttle. Webbed feet stretch down to brake. Now they flutter just a few feet above the ground.” I watched as one group after another landed just a few feet from each other. Maybe when they were just learning to fly they did some crash landings. Maybe brothers would misjudge and land on top of one another.
“They know how to work the slats. Watch that one.”
“Yea.” Their agility for a fat goose was amazing.
“What slats?” I asked.
“Slats are extensions of the airplane wings. They increase the drag. You pitch the nose of the airplane up to slow down. Landing was always the best part of the flight. The problem was in the war, I was so dag tired at the end of the day. I had to rally all my energy to land smoothly.”
He gave a nod of admiration to the geese. He mentioned briefly that he had flown many flights (20? 30?) over Europe in WW II. He knew he was Quaker, that Hitler was an enemy to the free, that he was fighting violence with violence. He was reconciled to participating in the war: he was just 20 years old. He didn’t fly much after his discharge in 1945. He came home in uniform, a war hero, and got a lot of free drinks. He never untangled the lessons of war for a disgruntled 10 year old. But he admired the savvy of the wild geese: who fly in formation, who travel thousands of miles, who wheel gracefully through the December skies, who descend and land with their sophisticated navigation. I got it: he passed it on. We both shared recurring dreams of flying off the ground.
My Dad was smart and cocky and a good pilot. He loved learning from animals. He loved to move through space. He loved me. The geese are a testimony to lifting off the constraints of the earth; of the extraordinary feeling of going beyond what is earthly possible, and then using all your powers to land safely after flight. What deeper mysteries are there?
There’s 3 types of forgiving. The first type comes like a sharp pebble in your shoe. Usually I wiggle it around a bit, I tap my shoe trying to shift the stone so I doesn’t poke me. This pebble is when I’ve said something unkind, or maybe when I’ve ignored someone who wanted my time. These small transgressions happen every day. If cooperation sets the stage for raising children, forgiveness is the engine that allows for cooperation. We actually forgive our children everyday, several times a day– when they break things, keep us awake, make us late, interrupt an important phone call, lie to us, etc. Parents should take a lot of credit. Every parent knows about for-give-ness, whether they apologize or not. We forgive so we can start afresh, we turn our mindset around, so as to make room for love. We forgive so as to love even when we sacrifice plenty.
A second type of forgiveness that’s demanded of me is when I cheat and cause damage even to dear friends. I jumped ahead of an acquaintance in line so they didn’t get those Red Sox tickets. I lied. I gave away my extra desk, and kept the best one for myself. I borrowed without asking permission. As a mother I trespassed into my teenager’s room to sniff out any contraband. I refrained from telling you what I knew. I hurt you. So I ask for forgiveness. (more…)
It’s now 2 months since my Dad took his own life. He was 86 years old.
I think of myself as a daughter who misses her parent. I don’t think of myself as a survivor like one who’s survived a suicide. Many see suicide as wrong, shrouded in dank and silent screams. But the mystery of suicide was unveiled for our family. Dad spoke openly about wanting to die and that he would do it without our help.
For his family on that August afternoon, he spoke obliquely without fanfare–at bedtime he would take an overdose.I wouldn’t participate in the suicide. Dad taught me about welcoming dying, even though I refused to join with him in his dance with death. I didn’t want to count the pain killers, or put one pill in his hand. If he dropped one, I’d pick it off the floor, but never put it in his hand. Nor did I choose to flush the drug in the toilet. I was glad to be a bystander not joining in the end game.
In prayer I understood Dad’s position, accepted it as different than my own. I checked it out with my Inner Guide and I knew it wasn’t my role to deny my father. He wasn’t much of a complainer during that year he told me he’d take his life. We talked often.He liked the borderlines of science and mystery. What’s dark matter, gray matter and anti-matter. What’s the sky and what’s heaven? What are the 2 wolves prowling in your mind and do you feed them?We had great conversations. He spoke about his inner gleamings of eternity.Emotionally I cheerfully explored with him life and death and even moreso, spiritually.
But physically I would not lift a finger to help him. Not because it’s a crime, but because helping him die would ruin a pact of love. I would never diminish the love we shared. After all, he gave me life. He showed love and exemplified strength. Was I born to give him death? I didn’t participate in his undoing, and so kept the promise. Between father and daughter the unwritten vows are not to give up on life or love.
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