I will never forget that day. We sat in an old, rusty truck and held hands, looking out across the gravestones reaching as far as our eyes could see. I’m not sure if I understood the weightiness of that moment, the fact that your life was numbered in days, not years or even months. We sat next to stories past, perhaps not considering that yours would soon join theirs. Although, maybe you were thinking about your numbered days? I was 19, and I was too distracted by concerns and questions that now feel so petty. You didn’t brush them off, though. That was the kind of dad you were…always holding my dreams and ponderings tenderly, no matter how small or silly they might have been. You wanted to go for a bike ride, but the bikes remained in the bed of the truck because your pain was too great. So we sat and talked, a memory that I now cradle as one of the most precious.
Dad, I was thinking about you a lot yesterday. I wish that I could sit next to you in the oppressive summer heat again…here, ten years later. I wish I could tell you about the questions and concerns I have now. The world feels even heavier now than it did all those years ago, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with the weight. Somehow, holding your hand made me feel less afraid to stand up tall, to fight for justice and compassion and love. I am changing, dad, and sometimes I wish I could talk to you about that too. I wonder what you might say about my shifting understanding of the world, myself, even God. I wonder what insight you might share for those of us who are sad and angry about the brokenness of this world we live in but don’t know what to do about. I suspect I know what you might say, but I wish I could sit down next to you and look into your gentle eyes while you pour forth the wisdom you always shared so generously.
Here’s what I think you would say: Live with intentionality and faithfulness where you are. You cannot carry the weight of the world, but you can help bear the weight of someone’s world. Love extravagantly. Give generously. Remember that what you see, feel, believe is not all that is. Hold tightly to the Light of the World who is always breaking into what feels at times like overwhelming darkness.
I have a feeling we would disagree about some things now, Dad. My understanding of faith and life has shifted so much from that day we sat next to each other ten years ago. But I also know that the best parts of Today Me were deeply shaped and impacted by you. You left your handprint on my heart and life, and even the fact that I have changed so much is a credit to the way you encouraged me to be a strong and passionate woman. You taught me that the best kind of leader is a humble, hardworking servant. I hope that I will always pursue the kind of leadership that cleans toilets, sits with the outsider, picks up trash, and mostly just loves quietly and without fanfare. I hope that I will always strive to be a leader who can admit to being wrong and laugh at my shortcomings. I hope that I will always carry on your legacy of being faithful in the small things until they become the biggest things.
Dad, I wish you were still here. I wish you could hold your grandkids and spend hours mowing the pasture and take long walks while whistling from the overflow of your joy-filled heart. I wish you could meet the people I have come to love who never knew you. I wish we could still sit in cemeteries together, even though I always thought it was strange you liked those places so much. There are so many things I wish were different, but here we are, ten years later, and I don’t think you would want me to spend too much time longing for what isn’t. You would instead give me a firm hug, then say, “Ab, just show up. That’s the hardest part. The rest will follow.”
So I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other, holding onto memories and the rich wisdom you instilled in me so many years ago. And I’ll keep sharing stories about you with people who never had the privilege of knowing you, hoping all the while that they get a glimpse of who you were because I bear your handprint on my heart.