On Saturday Garrett and I ran errands and then grabbed an impromptu bite to eat. It had been a balmy day, and falling into a comfortable chair and sharing a cocktail early in the evening felt sort of magical. As we headed out, bellies full and thirst quenched, I signed the credit card slip and was struck by how identical my signature looked in comparison to the memory I have of my dad’s signature. It was a fleeting feeling but a strong one. One of those moments that I have come to cherish where out of nowhere, for a brief, comforting second I’ll feel just the slightest shift in the electricity around me and know my dad is there.
Sunday morning I woke up and was sitting on the couch in a sleepy haze drinking coffee when my attention was drawn to the bookshelf in my living room. There are a few books on that shelf that belonged to my dad and I pulled one down because I thought I remembered his signature being on the inside cover. It turned out to just be a pre-printed bookplate with “From the Library of John Woodcock” written on it in a loopy cursive font, and though I was disappointed I began to flip through the pages.
The book was Hugh Prather’s There Is A Place Where You Are Not Alone and if you are not familiar with Prather or his work, you are probably familiar with his Saturday Night Live alter-ego Jack Handy. It’s about as cheesy as Self Help gets, but there are a lot of great kernels of wisdom too. There were dog-eared pages and underlined passages and it was wonderful to see the words through another’s eye. I giggled to myself in spots in an effort to combat the lingering feeling of loss that inevitably bubbled up, because access to his complexity is one of the things I miss most about no longer having my dad around. He was just so much than met the eye.
He was the definition of masculinity, yet he was raised by four women. He made his mark on the world as a professional athlete, yet he was one of the gentlest people you could meet. One of the most complex parts of his personality was that he was plagued by philosophical questions. Though raised in a Christian household he explored other avenues of spirituality with a guarded curiosity. He could quote bible verses just as easily as he could quote the advice of famous coaches. He truly sought to understand the meaning of life so that he could act on it efficiently. Shortly after he died my mother and I looked at each other and had the most hysterical laugh over the fact that at least NOW HE KNEW. He finally had all the answers to those questions that plagued him, and it was honestly a relief. It was the kind of dark humored full body laughter that brings such comfort in the wake of tragedy, and to this day whenever I ponder the magnanimity that is the human condition, I am always a bit envious of the fact that my dad knows how it all works. It’s a shame that he and I will never have a drunken fireside chat.
So as the caffeine perked me up, I curled up on the couch, eyebrows furrowed, and nodded my way through various pages of “deep thoughts.” When I got to the end of the book I read something that just instantly stopped me in my tracks. It was in a section coincidentally about Early Deaths and I could almost hear my father reading it aloud:
You who have seen another go so quickly, close your eyes for just an instant and remember some moment when this loved one felt near to you and yet was physically far from your sight. That feeling was not an illusion. You will see him again. He has only left a little while. There was a special work that required only him and, although you don’t remember now, you wished him well and gave him your blessing as he went. His thanks for your understanding remains a warm and gentle place in your heart, and whenever you wish, he will support you on your way, even as you did for him.
Cheesy self help or not, reading those words felt like a hug that I desperately needed. We don’t sit down and chat — I can’t stop by to see him or call him on the phone — but when I connect with him, the feeling is not an illusion. It was nice Sunday morning reminder that even though we are no longer physically close, every once in a while we can still sit down and have a little Coffee Talk.