With Fathers’ Day approaching, it seems apt to share a poem about my Dad. It would be easy with his progressing dementia and recent illness to post something about struggle. But I’d rather go with hope today:
When I was younger
We always knew when my father was happy
Because he hummed to himself.
He was unaware
But his contentment could not be contained
And spilled out in sound.
We would smile, knowingly,
At each other
But say nothing,
Just happy that he was happy.
He hums less these days
His mind preoccupied with recurring thoughts
Chasing elusive memories
Like a dog after his tail.
We repeat answers to his repeated questions
Pretending each time is the first
Sharing the seeping loss of him.
But his grandson sings unknowingly
An unconscious inheritance
Reminding us of happiness
And we still smile.
One of my favourite films is ‘Evan Almighty’, starring Steve Carell as a modern day politician unexpectedly called by God to build an ark. As bizarre events follow – an unshaveable beard, an increasing number of wild animals in his office, and an industrial load of lumber delivered to his doorstep – his wife questions his sanity.
In a minor scene, she sits in a diner wondering if her marriage has a future. The waiter (Morgan Freeman with the name badge ‘Al Mighty’) chats to her. He explains that when we ask God for something – more love, more courage, or in her case a better relationship between her husband and their sons – God doesn’t magic these things into immediate existence. Instead He gives us opportunities to develop and practise them.
That explanation has stayed with me. I held onto it in my mother’s last months of life as a hope that God was using the experience to grow me into a better version of myself, that this could be His way of ‘working all things together for good.’
I am holding onto it again now as I have to increasingly care for my father with his worsening dementia and dependence. I guess my spiritual muscles of patience, kindness, and gentleness are not big enough yet so God is giving me daily chances to exercise them into better shape.
It’s tough though. I’m regularly disheartened and I’m often exhausted, struggling to keep going. Like any exercise regime.
I’m not on my own in this. I remind myself that I am part of a relay race, although sometimes it feels more like a tag team wrestling match.
Maybe in the future my spiritual muscles will be so well developed that they will just go into action without any effort. I hope so. But in the meantime, it’s back on with the trainers and sweatband…