It has been one year since my father died. As I reflect on the past year and the memories that have surfaced slowly, I am comforted by visions of sky, big sky. The sky has provided the shelter and container for my heart and has now instilled in me a willingness to remember. My current memories are of how big hearted and tender hearted my father was. I don't know if I ever let myself feel this, fully realize this, when he was alive.
He drove me crazy. Or rather, let me say I let myself be driven crazy by his behavior which could be very controlling and manipulative (behaviors that are readily observable in myself, which really made me crazy). But his heart was so huge. He gave a big, almost crushing embrace. Same with his hand shake. He loved so much. This drove me crazy, of course. But now I can see just how big of a gift this was. And I see the tenderness, like the sky, which surrounded it all.
When I was three, I remember running down the dirt road from our little adobe house in New Mexico to greet my dad as he walked home from work. I would hold a plastic and metal clothes hanger in my hand, high above my head, and let it spin in the wind as I ran down the hill imagining that I could fly. The plastic hanger was my helicopter. And my Dad would look at me and laugh and reach out his arms so that I could leap up and fly, if even for a moment, before he caught me. His love made me feel that I could fly. And all the while the big New Mexico sky hovered above us, protecting us. This sky was his heart, his love; it was that big, it was boundless.
Then when I was ten and I severely broke my leg in a skiing accident, there he was, every moment with me, telling me that it would be ok, and smiling. I didn't know it at the time but by the way he expressed his love for me, carefully and tenderly carrying me from the car into the emergency room, and explaining what the doctors would do to set my leg, he was letting me know that though my leg was broken, I could not be broken. What he loved about his daughter could never be broken.
And when I totaled our heavy Chevy station wagon just after my fifteenth birthday, there he was, every cell full of relief that I was alive and okay. My mother was furious, and rightly so because I was driving recklessly, but my dad was not angry, he was full of gratitude. I was terrified and shaken, but he was calm. He drove me back to the crash site that evening (in our other car) and we drove slowly back and forth around the bend where I lost control of the car. This was such a huge teaching. He gave me a chance to create a new samskara (imprint) in my nervous system. Stuff will happen, you will crash, you will fall, and if you can, you will get back up. It’s about the getting back up. I never drove recklessly again. My father knew that I wouldn't, but he did not want me to be incapacitated by fear.
And then there were the long drives home from the college I attended in Denver. The two of us just driving and visiting. Me and my Dad. Just us. And then after his heart surgery; this was a big thing because his emotions flowed so easily after that. He would say the things and communicate his feelings whatever they may be. He would say the stuff that I was thinking but could never give voice to. He let me know over and over how much he loved me. Just said it, out loud. He was unabashedly vulnerable, and sweet. It stunned me and I was at a loss as to how to respond.
All this is not to say that it isn't as if there weren't stories of another sort, as when he was full of rage, or stubbornly refusing to communicate, or obviously in extreme denial. But I am now completely flooded with memories of the love that underlies, surrounds, and pervades it all. So many memories for which I could write volumes. Even when I found myself frustrated or angry or even enraged with my Dad, I know that the big sky of love was above us, is still above us, containing the crazy way we deal with this fact of love, and of loss. The living and the dying.
The sky is always there. Big Sky, Big heart.