My father’s shoeshine kit hearkens back to Sunday mornings when I was a child. He sat on the edge of the bed, his stocky frame sinking the mattress to the floor, and propping one foot at a time on the cedar valet, he polished his shoes, back and forth and back and forth. Sometimes, if he had time and I remembered to ask him, he polished mine. I loved to watch him dig the horsehair dauber into the can of black paste and spit a shine on my shoes that rivaled the polish of a new moon on the ancient ocean.
My father was a sailor-turned-evangelical preacher, and he carried his naval penchant for good-shined shoes to his pulpit-pounding, foot-stomping ministry. It seems blasphemous to question his calling, now, as he stands on the Elysian shore of Fiddler’s Green.
A Father’s Legacy
For all my father was and was not, and is and is not, it was through the complex experiences of his holy vocation that I came to know the God of Abraham and the Son of Mary and the Mother of God. And, nothing in the universe can ever match the value of the knowledge of Christ that began for me as a young child, sitting on my father’s pew in my Father’s House. This is the legacy my father gave me and it will never, ever die, and truly, I must be the luckiest person in the world.
Everyday we are all dying a little bit, but my father, today, he is really dying, and the rest of us, we are just growing older, still. I carried his shoeshine kit out of his apartment today. As much as I wish I could deny it, his recent arrival to the rest home feels like the last stop before the grave.
My stalwart mother had the unenviable task of packing up most of this life that for all of mine has meant so much, if not everything. By the time I arrived there wasn’t much left to go through. She was going to toss the kit, blotched as it was with black shoe polish and scarred by the heels of too many shoes. There is only so much one family can keep.
Mushroom Cloud, Atomic Veteran
But, I carried the shoeshine kit home and sat at the foot of my bed. It is the current ambassador for my childhood – the messenger of the hour arriving in the torrent of my dying father’s regrets. If only his paranoia, depression, anxiety, fears and anger could subside long enough to allow him to realize his prosperity. Alas, the soupy fog subdues reality to smother his thoughts and affections. This is smog, really, created by a mix of bad genes, old age and prescriptions out the wahzoo. Of course, I can’t ignore hydrogen bombs laced with experimental dashes of plutonium and uranium. (I am now in possession of a certificate, embossed with a red mushroom cloud, from the U.S. Navy proclaiming pride in my father for participating in these tests. He is what they call an Atomic Veteran.
All these make him blind to his legacy and devoted children. His always-looming death overwhelmed us all for 30 years and we have lamented his dying every day. We hardly know what to do with ourselves now that he has really atrophied, slipped into social coma and bearing out the agony of authentic disease.
How can one weave a truthful tale? As Kahil Gibran wrote, people become perfect in their absence from us. “Like the mountain to the climber from the plain,” it is not so hard to scale and seems a simple feat. In dying, my father is reaching a level of perfection and I want so much to make him happy. Some things never change.