‘“There never was a greater event and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history so far!” ….Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. ”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Parable of the Madman (1882)
It is Father’s Day
Today is Father’s Day. I think I might have heard a thought today about fathers. “If you have peace with your father, you have peace with the Father of your soul. ” I might have made up the thought . Or I might have recalled it from long ago. I dunno. I really dunno much . I only remember …..
I remember because without remembering every thing seems too quiet. It is very quiet since our father died. My sister is a professor and sophisticated and I am still blue collar bourgeois as my father predicted. But we both miss him , speak of him , think of him as if he were here…
Even if I go out in restaurants I think of him .. miss him. Now out ” on the town” all is mundane. There is only chit chat of daily news. mundane murmurings about presidents and pestilence, economy and ecosystems. All these topics my father knew in detail but chose to divert into controversy . So now , Like all familiar to their deceased , my sister and I say “what would Lord M say about..” And we imitate his American British accent with a quip and then say “bartender , another martini” while we sip our water with lemon.
Perhaps , Life is dull because it is less goaded by the spear of my fathers inquisition into my faith . Times when he would jab and I would scream “THERE IS GOD, HE IS NOT DEAD”
I don’t have to announce the Eternal one in this room where I live. He is just present here ,even now as I type. But I do feel Life is much more exciting when we are introducing Him. Now I seem docile ,quiet , domesticated by time. I am possibly the one now sitting like a slug unaware of something very large in our midst. Maybe today I do indeed need to remember . Remember there is something …
Large like they say ” an Elephant in the room’ . But even more.. Larger than the room. Strange how our God stands , sits , kneels , lurches , waiting for our attention like an invisible eclipsing shadow in the room.
I can’t find any looking back with the lense of history as my father did . Nor do I see any trying to figure out if we killed God or was He never really around. Though the question is certainly answered , no one asks for the answer. All seems stilled of conflict with the creator. Instead we prefer conflict with fellow creatures. We all ignore God . The people that He made get all the attention as well as the gadgets that we have made.Though infinitely large He He is incredibly inconspicuous .
We so easily ignore Him. We are all slugs, not Jacobs . We don’t wrestle with Him. He is in the room, larger than the room but, we know Him not. We prefer things. Faintly I hear from heaven . I hear my father and husband agreeing “those damn machines are their gods”
Indeed , we pick up our phones every day and often on this Father’s Day . Then gently we slip them on counter or in our pocket. So Careful we are with our phones never wanting to lose sight of them . But we have folded, even crumbled , God up like a paper mask . Maybe another one , another god, will be handed out when needed.
Or more awkwardly , we name drop Him into our politics or preferences . He is neither colossal or close. Strange now how God hasn’t seemed large and worth reckoning with like he was for my agnostic father. It seems in the reckoning , wrestling , there is more honor than in our ignoring or politicking . When we ignore Him we can’t kill Him but something is killed within.
The phone falls to the floor on this Fathers Day there is no father to call. Abandoning facebook and instagrams I am captured by the images in my mind of The final days of my father.. i pull out the notes from years ago…. Clear are the echoes of the voices when “the madman” , my father rested his days . Here, the day of his leaving .. now is as present as this keyboard , It is as real as these fingers I have moving across space retelling this story , it is that real …. .
“Your God is a pain in my ass.. “ my father would say . Then , before I could respond , he would say “ And I am probably a pain in yours” We would laugh.
There seemed to always be an almost crude invitation for God to be with us in the later days. My father , the “agnostic” seemed to invite God like a jostling friend into the room without my invitation. God most familiar with my father, and my father increasingly curious about Him.
” A tumor has found residence in my ass” my father would say about his condition. ” “they need to give me more pills to disable it . It needs to be evicted before I am evicted entirely ”
His physicians were coaxing him to comfort himself with pain medication and physical therapy . But , he was demanding they provide a cure for the incurable. Appetite wanning, and body wasting, he boasted in his thinning face stating that it was “more noble and aristocratic ” , ” all the actresses will want me and i will have no time to write their screenplay ” He was determined to press on.
“But what I really called about” my father would softened his voice to continue . Softly continue past my affirmation that ” yes ” his frequent calls had become an interruption to my day. But assuring him he was not a “pain in my ass” .
“Well fine that being settled What I really called for ” he continued “is I think you and your husband George should come visit me. There is a golf tournament in town and if you came you could take care of a few things for me while George watches Tiger Woods .’
“ I don’t think Tiger woods is golfing now … What’s going on Pop, what few things?’ I would ask suspiciously.
“They are not treating me well here and I need to get strong to get back home. “
Quickly ,His voice would raise “Dammit , they are ignorant and unskilled mechanics of the body. They call themselves “therapists” , I don’t need a damn physical therapist I need a body mechanic. That’s why you need to come. And bring George, he’s a mechanic. I don’t care anymore that he hasn’t read a book . I need a mechanic now not a therapist. I will be fine and Able to be released from this prison if I am aligned and calibrated rightly. Can you come “
“ Ill be there for sure Wednesday pop, “ my heart melted at his imaginatively hostile plea.
“Bring a little lubricant for my soul“ he would softly request” Okay pa, Ill be there about 10”
“the lubricant of the soul” , my father would call for was Irish whiskey and Tennesse whiskey. Every soul is “stiff and stilted “without it my father surmised.. Always smiling and quoting Emily Dickinson “Candy’s dandy but liqueur is quicker” So , negotiation with physician and nurse allowed my father to have two miniatures per evening as a refreshing prescription in his “prison” . His prison being a nursing home in Ponte Vedre Florida.
Every 4 or 5 days I would drive 3 hours to see my father . Each visit he would greet me with a pleading look and reprimand ” you put me here! You e tu Brute you betrayed me to that misguided social worker! “ . “You shouldn’t have told the social worker about the flood! It was a natural disaster considering my condition and had nothing to do with my compentency. I mistook rain for the overflowing toilet. I was reciting Feste’s song from Shakespeare 12 night “the rain it rained every day” to sleep through it all. It was a literary fopah of sorts“
” I think it was an prophetic allegory” I said.
“Of what pray tell?”
“Of the great flood and now you are safely on a boat”
“Foolishness!! Did you bring the lubricant”
Each visit the same banter , he reminded me of the scene of coming to his home to take him to an appointment and seeing the flood of fecal waters flowing out his door onto the driveway. He remembered my betrayal and I remembered his divine rescue into a safer place. The toilet had overflowed in his upstairs bedroom . He said he had called the fire department and told them about the flood and the fire department said it wasn’t their department “they deal with flames not floods” he said.
The flood caused damage to kitchen and to the neighbors kitchen . Within a few weeks social services deemed it unsafe for my father to be home alone. They placed him in what was called “a rehab” until he could come home to family or take care of himself or find a hospice residence. In time , the facility became all three his rehab, his home and finally his hospice.
“I want to go out for cocktails. Next time bring tyler we will go out for cocktails.”
“We will see” . Can I pray for you? I asked as was custom as I left. Always he rejected but the first hint came when he said …
“You can ask the landlord what ever you bloody well want. If He were to exist He would see I am in need of repair ” ” yes pray to the landlord and restock the whiskey at the nurses station .”
As I turned to leave my father shouted “also send me someone to have an intelligent conversation , this is intellectual hell here… hell Ill take a Jesuit priest… even a “yellow one” my father called referring to Nietzeche” s “thus spoke Zarathustra”
“Can I send a priest “I asked my newly converted husband. My pastor had long since given up on my father . And among all the Christians I knew , none would go bedside. It was to them worse than a lions den visiting my father.
“Call the local priest in your father’s town” my husbands priest instructed me the following day .
“Hello San Jose Parrish” a gruff voice answered. “Umm sir … my father ” Abrubtly the man said ” My name is Father Tom, now lets begin with what is your name”
“Very well then ” the priest said after I submitted my name and request
” I only happen to pick up the phone. I’m a retired priest but I’m familiar with where your father is staying. I like the challenge I will be there tomorrow. ” ”
“Thank you sir thank you very much sir. .”
“You can call me Father tom. But no need to thank me . Rather thank God after we find out what he’ll do in the situation. Your father sounds very stubborn. No more to chat about. Good day.”
” He’s perfect !!!! “1 I said to my husband￼ . Though not a Catholic at the time, I was joyfully hopeful to include this priest in bringing the gospel to my father.
Father Tom went to see my father weekly. They spoke of Greek and Roman empires , the Renaissance and the Enlighnenmnt , Capitalism and socialism , Catholicism and judism , Intellegent design theory , Dawkins and of course Nietzsche . Then with music and poetry they found much common ground . For week upon week ,for about six weeks , . Each friendly chat would end with Father Tom introducing God. The introduction would be extinguished predictably with my Father shouting for the priest to “leave your mythological figurehead out of the room don’t let it ruin our friendship”.
Father Tom would update me promptly after each visit. Your father is “delightfully incorrigible. ” Until, finally one day ,Father Tom called ” I regret to tell you that I will no longer be visiting your father. Let me know when or if he is dying for certain and I may return if the Spirit permits. For now we are done”
” Im excommunicated ” my father left a message .
“You were never in pop, he was just befriending you . You lost your friend”
“Well , we had our disagreements about the land lord”
“The Land lord?”
“I said that this Landlord whom he speaks about has done nothing to improve the dwellings He owns and He said back to me ” that landlord Robert Makemson has paid for all your destruction and that indeed is an overpayment to mankind” and he left.
Very few could endure the insults of my father. “Im surprised he hung around as long as he did . Do you ever want him to come back ?” My son asked when we visited a few weeks later.
“Maybe when I die , even Voltaire had a priest when he died.” My father said.
“Let’s have a cocktail “he said to my son.
” I brought you a Hershey bar ” my son offered.
“Excellent . ” i hope I don’t offend you , you are a good man”
My son smiled . It had been a very long time since he had heard these words and I had never heard my father so kind.
Can we pray together ? I asked my father when we were preparing to go home. My son and husband gathered around the bed. ” to the landlord ?” My father asked.
No to “our father” . Can you say “our Father”.
“No you say it. ”
I prayed “Our Father ” only the two words . While holding my fathers hand who held my sons hand , I said again “our father” . And I looked at my father and cried. He looked back . There was a very long pause , then either my husband or son softly said “Amen”
The weeks to follow were the same prayer. “What was your father like ? “I asked “after all he was my grandfather”I learned of “Grandddady Make , my father’s father. I learned that he was large and demanding of his son. he wanted him to be A Man and not a boy.To be strong in mind and body. Not soft in ways of poetry and literature. But my father was tender and tall , an only child , shy and poetic. a true disappointment to a larger than life man he called” father”. Week after week , we would add bit by bit to the simple Lord’s Prayer until one day my father mouthed the beginning with me . “our Father”. These were the two words I saw him pray and one more a few weeks later..
“You pray to your Father. ” he stopped to say
“He is your father too. ” I replied “He is not a tyrant. Hes differnt than our fathers”.
“Different than yours and different than mine?.”my father winked.
“yes ” I said. “He is most unusual. even more unusual than you “I winked back to clear away my tears.
“Go ahead pray to Him anytime.’ He said. ” you too Pop” I said
“He didn’t fight back ” I said to my husband as we were leaving….”damn I hope he is not fixin to die!”
A NEW ROOM
“This will have to suffice pop” I said as I poured his miniature into a small plastic juice cup twirling a sponge to absorb the whiskey.
My father had aspirated liquids so with further visits , we fed him puréed foods , some caviar that he requested and jackdaniels on a green sponge used to clean teeth. The frail frame of my fathers larger than life soul seemed like a country shack. Small, Historic , full of memories, dry wood, a little moss on the roof.
“They are moving you to another room I told my father. It’s nicer and beautiful nurses will be with you all day and night. They can play this playlist “, I told my father . It was a playlist of songs by Handel Vivaldi Bach Mozart and Chopin that he had requested .
“Am I going to die.” He slowly asked.
“yes . “I said. But we do not know when. ”
“We are all dying Bob ” my husband said, who too had cancer and would die 6 months later. “We don’t know when…we are all getting the hell out of here”
As we left the room that day , “you better call the priest” my husband said.And so in a few hours I called.
“Father Tom , this is Vanessa, ”
“Yesssss” Father Tom said as if I were a familiar irritation.
” well you remember … ”
“Robert” Father Tom interupted. ” If he is dying , I want to remind you , i am retired and there are priests designated for his nursing home. I will give you the number and you can call them”
“But no Father Tom he likes you. He wants you ”
“Did he say that?”
“Well no Father but there is no other that can reach him , I’m certain, i really am certain it should be you”
“Call the others ” Father Tom insisted “if it is urgent and you can’t get anyone , i mean anyone , we have 3 , then call back.”
The next morning, I told my husband , nothing in me could call another priest. “Will you call father tom for me”
“Are you sure he is dying George. … man to man is this the end for the old chap? ”
” Yes Father… you need to get out here ,anyway, God called you for this. Your retired but your not dead”
” Im coming now” and within 15 minutes Father Tom was in the parking lot greeting George. ” just tell your wife , I’m not making any promises”
Father Tom entered the room where my father lie curled on his side. Handels Messiah was playing on that September morning , like a christmas carol in summer. “This is. first classical music my father introduced to me ” I said to the priest. ” Are we like sheep all gone astray ” father Tom sang.
“Robert your time has come. Do you remember me?” My father slowly nodded his head, ever so slightly. Father Tom’s voice softened. “Im sorry Robert. I have really enjoyed you. you know so much . Do you think you may have erred in not wanting to know God. No bothering now. You will find out much about Him and find He is indeed delightful. But right now you have some bigger problems Robert. ”
THE LANDLORD’S SON
Father Tom continued bending down over my father , his large crucifix dangling before my fathers eyes. “Much separates you from God. It is not good because He is your Father. ”
And when Father Tom said “Father” the word lingered and enlarged within the room. It was very much alive, this word “Father”.
“Do you know of any way you can get to the Father? You are weak , and you have done a lot wrong. You are far from the Father. But He comes to you Robert. He comes chasing you down like the Hound of heaven , right now. It’s good you can’t run anymore, he chases you down with the Cross, the Cross…
the priest held his swinging crucifix still while he said ” here the Father in the Son comes to rescue you. What is the Spirit saying to you ? Does it say this is not true …God pursuing and chasing you? ”
Some family left the room. My husband and I were left with Father Tom.
My father shook his head no. His eyes seemed be large , not sad but curious.
“Does it say that he is wanting to save you from your greatest sin which is your unbelief in Him? ”
my father looked sweetly surprised. Bright eyed like a sad child hearing a parent say “its not that you ran away , its that you didn’t trust me. ”
“Can he do this Robert ?”My father nodded .
” Indeed Robert ” THe lord takes away your unbelief here on the Cross” ” do you accept that this is the way God deals with our unbelief ?” My father stared at the the crucifix.
“Robert …. Robert …. Do you accept Jesus to save you from the fires of hell? To pay for all your doubt and disobedience by what Jesus accomplished in His obedience. ”
The room was still, ever so faintly we all could hear Handels chorus ” he shal purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer on to the lord that offering in righteousness”
What do you want to do Robert?
“Believe..Do you want to believe”the priest bent down
“Yes” I see my fathers first tear.
“Do you believe that God can save you this way? That this is His way of doing business with us. Do you see He has the right to deal with us according to our sins but has chosen this beautiful art of Grace towards us?
“Yes” I see my fathers second tear.
Do you reject Satan and His ways to make us doubt the Grace of God
“Yes” I see my fathers third tear.
The priest then placed holy water on my fathers head . And proceeded to splash holy water as a silhouette around my father’s entire body. Then Father Tom began to sing a song that sounded like no other . All while singing he marked crosses across my fathers body. Glittering crosses on hands and head and chest. All while chanting gently like a chime in a gentle breeze . My husband too sang and a strange harmony of unknown words played above all other sounds.
“Oh dear child enter the kingdom, into His hand commend your spirit Robert. in the name now and forevermore .. to the FAther the Son and the Holy Spirit. ” My fathers eyes shut and gently as he slightly smiled .
The hours that followed were holy vigil. There seemed to be an essence of light continually. The nurses that came to stay with my father sensed a change . An ease of the disease. It seemed as if my father was gone though his body remained .
He officially died Sept but it seemed as if he was just born days before. He was born again the day he died I would tell my friends. I never really knew him in that way . But now when I remember him. It is as I remember Paul and all of those who kick against the goad. All their unbelief purged, they surround us encourage us and remind us of the glory that prevails.
I will soon meet my father again . I will be hunting him down at heavenly tables sitting with Socrates and Shakespeare, Plato and Picasso, along with Paul and any other great thinkers who came to believe . Surely he will be there ,discussing with delight , the impossibility of killing God, the great Landlord. And Perhaps he is reflecting in glory the holy tensions of Nietzsches’s “thus spoke Zarathustra” saying.
Perhaps every thought from madman has been glorified to say now
The “sponge to wipe away the whole horizon” has wiped the evil and made a new dawn
The king that has “loosened the earth from the son” has cradled the soul for His own
The earthen vessel , “whither does it move” has decayed unto glory
Away from all “sun”, all flames of finite fire
That we may “dash unceasingly” as sparks to the Eternal Light
Yeah, we are here sparks ,”backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions”
Infinitely “where there is no more” but a beyond above and below
Yeah, do we not now stay in infinite somethingness into immortal invisible glory from whence we came
Does not The Spirit breathe upon us
Though once it “has become colder” all first becomes colder
And “night came on continually darker and darker from whence we came”
But now “Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning ” as the Bridegroom rises as the sun. Let us light lanterns for the dying as we pray
As we hear the noise of the gravediggers below who are burying God?
Ah the stench of death is not so great as the “divine putrefaction ” of sins. The stench of our unbelief
Oh ignorant mankind your have putrefied your God? Yet only in your mind , for God perpetually bends down and rises from your ash heap of murder.
Even today , multitudes of murderous thief’s hear “my son , today you will be with me in paradise.”