Through tear-filled eyes and searing pain I remember seeing him running down the hallway of the hospital like a fullback running for the goal line as I lay on my stomach gripping the edges of the bed. Only hours before I had caught my pajamas on fire and the doctors were pulling charred flesh off the back of my right leg to apply a dressing to my 3rd degree burn. Somehow, even though the pain would not go away, I knew I was going to be fine. I don’t remember what he said. I don’t remember him touching me. I don’t remember him holding me. I remember him running to me.
While he ran I remember a look of urgency and intensity on his face that I will never forget. He was not running to stop the pain, for he could not. He was not running to solve a problem, for he could not. He was not running to get me out of danger, for he could not. He was running to be with me. I ached for that. I cried out for that.
My mother was already with me. She had saved my life by wrapping a housecoat around my flaming leg. She had cared so tenderly for me. She had called the neighbor to watch my brother and sister and another neighbor to take us to the hospital. She was there. She was present. But when you are in pain and the pain wont’ relieve, you want the other parent. I wanted my father. My father had always fixed the problems of my five-year-old world. Not this time. This time the pain was intense and lingered for days.
That was almost fifty years ago. I still want my father. He has a pace-maker and an artificial knee that keeps popping out of joint, so he doesn’t run, but I still want him. I want him for different reasons than I did that day almost five decades ago. I want him now to show me how to be…old. I don’t understand Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. I don’t want to. I do not even know who Zac Efron is. My body hurts every time I get out of my chair. I have to get up several times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I barely recognize the man in the mirror. How do I become comfortable in these sunset years?
I have an on-going, low-level quarrel with old age. I try to stay current with some of the music my son’s listen to. I watch American Idol. I am training to run in the Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I climb fourteen thousand foot peaks. But no matter what I do, Father Time keeps kicking my considerable butt. And in some ways, I am coming to terms with that fact. I love being able to say that I have been married to the same woman for nearly thirty years. I love playing with my grandchildren. I love knowing what I know.
I am reading a wonderful book called Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler. The author is about my age and he is building a cabin in the wilderness outside of Juneau, Alaska. He is selecting various woods to use in his home and writes,
In time, I hoped, day-to-day wear, weather, guests, and rambunctious children or grandchildren would eventually mark and smooth the various parts of the structure into what the Japanese call a wabi-sabi home. At its simplest, sabi can be defined as the beauty that comes to physical things with the passage time, such as the way an old wooden door weathers into striking colors and patterns, or the grip of a tool develops a glowing patina after years of respectful use. Wa, the root of wabi, means “harmony” and connotes a life of ease within nature. When applied to objects, wabi-sabi implies the beauty of simple practicality. More important, the phrase carries a Zen overtone of living in the moment and accepting the inevitability of decay.
That last sentence is a perfect description of my father. At seventy-three years of age he has developed the art of living in the moment and accepting the inevitability of decay. He reads his Bible every day. He prays every day. He talks with someone about Jesus of Nazareth every day. He reads a book a week. He goes big game hunting every year. He has a huge vegetable garden in which he enjoys the produce thought out the cold winters of the mountains of Colorado.
But beyond the things he does what I appreciate about him is who he has become. In the last fifteen years or so I am not sure I have heard him say a mean-spirited word about another human being. He is more accepting of the shortcomings of others. He is a kinder and gentler man than I remember when I lived in his home. He still desperately longs for God. He longs for everyone he meets to know the God he knows. He is easy and comfortable being himself.
I am not sure if he ever saw his father run. But do know that he has a Heavenly Father who ran for him all the way to a place called Calvary to co-labor with Jesus to make atonement for sin. That same God lives inside the spirit and soul of my father even though he is not a perfect man. The list of his transgressions is long. But he is a man who loves God and has developed the ability to live in the moment. He has about him is the well-worn sheen of a tool that has grown accustom to a nail-scarred hand.
It is that patina that I admire most.