They cross my Facebook feed frequently, someone posting a picture of the dearly departed, wishing them a Happy-Birthday-in-heaven kind of thing, and often, in the comments is a quote something like this, “…not a day goes by that I don’t think of you…”
Both my parents are dead. I don’t think of them every day.
Time has passed, the jolt is over, and I may go weeks without thinking of them in a conscious way. And knowing them, I think they’d consider that alright, and be pleased to be part of the good raising.
…but, then there was this morning…
I don’t sing in the shower anymore. I can’t tell you that I even do much thinking in there. But I often pray. I’ll always say “Father” and “Hallowed”, but after that it’s usually a pretty choppy prayer, completely imperfect, as befitting the me-who-is-doing-the-praying.
This morning, as I was mumbling to God in my head, a memory of my father crossed my mind, and fitting, fitting, fitting, that this memory was about my father praying…
When The Doctor Said The C Word
When Dad was given the bad news, that it was cancer, and in a bad place, he wasn’t ready to go. It seems so his-ly his, the way he reacted, living the last few months like he lived the eight decades prior, by doing two obvious things: asking God for help; and helping himself with what was within his own power.
(I can hear him…”It’s okay to ask God for our daily bread, but we should expect to have to bake it.”)
…and so…he began every day with (earnest) prayer. And then he and I would walk. Dad had a goal, two miles a day, and he was sure that God noticed.
Our little town has a wonderful community health center called SPAR, with a walking track that circles up above the basketball courts. On the bottom floor is a gathering place, with coffee makings and seating.
The men have their tables, the ladies have theirs. Often I was the youngest person there. Any given day, someone brings donuts.
This story begins with a memory, and now the setting is set…
Goes Together Like Cream ‘n Sugar
It’s a noisy little area, partially because of the acoustics of the cinderblock. On this particular day the men were talking men stuff, the women talking women stuff, and then suddenly, all over the room, the volume dropped.
I looked up and saw Dad at the counter by the coffee dispenser. He was standing next to a lady who had a tremble in her posture. She had confided in Dad, some health worry about a loved one, and Dad, in his Dad-ly way, discretely, no big show, like it was absolutely natural, put his arm around her shoulder, and said a quiet prayer, right there over the cream ‘n sugar fixings.
It was such perfection.
All these people in the room, so different, so engrossed in the conversation they were having, some with their back to Dad, and yet all, like something you’d see in a nature documentary, went respectfully quiet, eyes diverted, still talking, but like whispering in church, while Dad and this lady had their moment of the True Stuff.
When Dad’s arm left the woman’s shoulder the room louded up again.
The best part – Dad had no idea anybody had even noticed. (Which is why, when he prayed for me, I knew we had the Big Man’s ear…)
…so…okay…that’s the memory I had, from out of nowhere, while I was taking my morning shower…and yes, it choked me up, like it’s doing now…
Okay, So On With The Day
The moment was the moment. Precious, and all that, but twenty seconds later I’m thinking of other things.
Hours later, at Eighty-one, I’m out front, watering some plants, when someone drives up. She says to her friend, “He looks more and more like his daddy.” Then she says, “When your daddy did my husband’s funeral…”
I’d Never Seen Anything Like It
That’s what she says, “I’d never seen anything like it.” At the gravesite service, under the tent, my father officiating, he said to the audience, “I’d like to say something to Phil. And he turned to the casket and talked to my husband, and said that we’d be alright, and that he should go on, and be at peace.”
Picture me, standing there near the front door, holding a water hose, hearing this, after this morning’s memory…and then she says, “After the service we went back to the house for coffee, and he asked if it would be alright if he prayed over the place in the hall where my husband died…”
Her expression was both awe and honor.
Is that the word? Sure, Dad was impulsive, but he was completely surrendered to the whispers of angels. It’s a curious thing about him, how introverted he really was, to pick an occupation/vocation like the ministry. He was never one to be the center of attention, and yet, so often… he was the only one praying. Never a show: a respectful bowing of the head, the closing of the eyes, and words, soft, soft, soft, but filled with childlike faith.
He truly believed that God was the Good Shepherd, and cared for each of His flock, and that it was the natural order of things, like eating when you’re hungry, or drinking when you’re thirsty, to pray when you need to pray.
It used to embarrass me so, when I was a teenager. And then I met phony people. After that, all I wanted was the purity of what-you-see-is-what-you-get, and best of all, when what-you-get is like something out of the New Testament…
In Dad’s little town there’s a restaurant called Pitt Grill, and it’s popular with the after Sunday School crowd for people of my father’s generation. Everybody knows everybody, and many a back is slapped at the salad bar.
Dad and I were there one Sunday and a lady comes to our booth and greets him. My father asks about her husband. “Oh…he’s not doing too well.”
Couple minutes later, I’m at the salad bar and see my father with the husband, they’ve clasped hands, heads bowed, almost invisible to the other diners, and my father is praying for the man…right there in a restaurant…
God in heaven. You did me right.
I was almost done with this story, and then I remembered a story I wrote after Dad had been dead a while. It was called The Expiration Date Of Prayers.
I don’t think prayers expire. I think God is required to receive prayers in an eternal way, despite the blink-of-an-eye length of the life of the one praying.
All that praying my father did, and some of it was for me… I’ll take that over a trust fund any day.
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we’ll take precious memories even if they cost us wet tissues.
Other Bedtime Stories can be found on Eighty-one’s Facebook page. Uncle P can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.