My uncle passed away last week. His name is Frederick. He is my father’s brother. My father (along with some of his other siblings) was to have travelled to Trinidad on Tuesday for the funeral that took place yesterday. My father missed his flight. Then, because of a combination of frustration, shame, anger and tiredness, refused to explore any other alternatives (albeit, expensive) that may have gotten him there on time. Yesterday, the day of the funeral, I went to sit with him.
My father is eighty-three years old. As we sat together yesterday and explored some new and most regurgitated family stories, issues and opinions, one phrase in particular uttered by daddy still is bouncing its way around my head. “This world and especially this country, is not made for the old”. This statement was in part a response into my query as to why he has missed his flight. He delved into a minute-by-minute account of what happened from the moment he awoke till he made it to the Jet Blue counter. He explained his frustrations at not being able to move quickly enough, stay focused for too long… his frustration at being alive at eighty-three… “For what?!”
Initially my response was as to be expected; I railed against his willingness to “leave” me, his giving up, his being ungrateful to God, blah blah blah. Then, as I quieted myself, my spirit and my feelings of anticipated abandonment, I looked at him. I truly looked at him and saw his tiredness. I saw his frustrations at still being around… “For what?!” He considers his life well-lived, well-loved and well-learned. His children are healthy, happy and off living their lives. His grandchildren are trying out their wings; some are flying. And, “This world and especially this country, is not made for the old”.
I heard him with feeling frail; thus vulnerable. I heard him with having sapped energy. I heard him with people’s frustrations because he cannot hear them… too well. And since then, I have been looking at the environments around me and placing my father and others like him – our matriarchs and patriarchs – in them. I have watched my own strides as I made it to work and tried to envision them walking with me, or even what they may feel seeing me striding toward them and how threatening that could be. I measured my own impatience when I encounter any who slows my purpose as I meander through my day and I try to place my elders in the scenario. I look at my life, I actualize its pace and I conclude making room for my father will be quite the adjustment. Not because of love. Never that. But because of pace.
Yet I question his question, “For what?!”
I shed tears at the mere thought of his not being here, even as I move through my days never slowing down enough to celebrate his being here.
This morning as I made my way into the city to do my life yet again, I took the time to look at and connect with how many of our elders are amongst us. I forced myself to slow my pace and allow them the peace deserved in this new world they inhabit. I watched their eyes and their tremors; and for the first time I realized those tremors may not be physically-related, but emotionally-related. I realized I/we could be the cause of why they tremble. That our pace and neglect for their care, can be/must be terrifying! I acknowledged the sadness in their eyes may or may not be from their past lives, as well as it may or may not be as a result of their present lives. The one that is foreign. The one that is lonely. The one that resides in a pool of abandonment because we are too busy. Too fast. Too negligent. Too intent on chasing away our own impending eighty-three…
I sat with daddy yesterday, hoping to help get him through the loss of a brother and the guilt and shame of not having made it to say, “Goodbye”. Today I sit with myself with the fullness of an understanding that part of what makes this world terrifying and unfriendly for those we should honor, is our disregard for what it must feel like accepting that those around us have taken all there was to give… and we are no longer useful. I sit knowing that my father’s willingness to ‘go home’ rests in part in my being too busy to come home. His feelings of uselessness are in part born of my reality of busy-ness. How is it I can say with absolute certainty how I would feel when he ‘leaves’, but I cannot say when next I will stop… And go see him?
I sat with daddy yesterday and as I looked around, I took note of all the pictures he has, literally on every surface in his living room. There is beautiful African art hanging on the walls; but on tables, desks and counters, there are family pictures. Pictures of my sisters and me from a million years ago. Pictures of my sisters and me ‘doing’ life and having those moments captured. Pictures that tell the stories of a lifetime and that possibly stand in our stead now.
Pictures that freeze us in their moments in time and allow him finally, to catch up with us.