My father has been dead for many years, but if I were to glance up and find him sitting on my couch, legs propped on my coffee table, swearing at a Lakers game, I would not be shocked.
He might be physically absent from my world, but he still lives with me, like all the other members of my family. He occupies a space within. A space reserved just for him. And from that space he looks at me with love. Brings me a glass of water in the middle of the night. Marvels at the humour and the height of the grandson he never met. Smiles at the wisdom of the granddaughter who keeps a photograph of him on her desk. And tells me, in that way he had of telling me, all the words he still wants me to hear.
His voice is clear. Deep. A Philly drawl sprinkled with twenty years in London. He says things like:
“Did you get a load of that kid?” (usually referring to a forty-five year old man)
“The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day – what more could I want?” (this after he left London)
“Jesus Christ!” ( loudly under his breath, not worshipping, but condemning any unsuspecting fellow diner who dared sneeze too close to him in a restaurant).
And the one that stays with me the most, like the surprising slip of a fortune that you carry home from dinner in your pocket and tape optimistically to your mirror, “The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best…”
I loved those words. I still do.
My father repeated those words when I was forced to wear an embarrassing patch over the left lens of my glasses. When I didn’t get elected for middle school student body president (and he had designed all of the campaign posters). When the short waiter with the limited vocabulary stamped on my heart. When I was rejected from my first choice university. He didn’t live long beyond my university years, but his words continue to resonate.
For him that tenant was tried and true. His greatest professional failure led him to escape across the Atlantic, where he reinvented himself, fell in love with my mother, and had the family he never imagined he would at the age of fifty – the best.
When a promising opportunity I felt certain would materialise, disintegrated painfully at the end of last year, my father’s words floated into my head. There he was, comfortable on my couch, chin propped on his hand, reassuring me. Life doesn’t always take you where you want it to. Destinies have a way of swerving and revealing views you never imagined encountering. Stay open. Stay receptive. “The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best, kid”. I know those words inevitably won’t always ring true; life is infinitely complicated and often brutal. But I’m still listening. Still hopeful. I still want to believe for all of us that shadows can shape shift, letting in light where you least expect it.
Do my father’s words hold any meaning for you?
What is written on your crumpled fortune cooke slips? Whose words stay with you when you really need to hear them, and how have they reverberated in your life?
Be brave and share your stories – they are the fragments that make you whole. Write down whatever arrives and welcome in the person who passed them on.