Dad left his us with a plethora of quotes which were quite simple, and one afternoon when I was a teenager, he said something that he never repeated, but I never forgot. He watched as I squeezed a telephone between my ear and my shoulder, stretched the curly cord across the entire kitchen, stirred food on the stove, counted cash and stuffed it in my pocket (Attention Deficit Disorder was not yet uttered ad nauseum.) He waited, serious-faced, until I hung up the phone.
"Margaret, you need to be where you are while you're there." No elaboration.
It was six days since Dad's funeral, and I was into two days of researching the right volunteer opportunity to ease somebody else's suffering.
This morning, as I toggled between scouting volunteer organizations and proofreading my scene for tonight's writing class, Connie called. Glad that the scene was complete, I saved it and exited.
"What are you up to?"Connie asked.
"Eh, just a little volunteer pursuit."
"Volunteer? What do you mean?"
"I'd like to serve a family in some way who's suffering the same way that Dad and we did."
"What are you doing?"
Hadn't I just answered that?
"Honey, I'm concerned about what you are doing to yourself right now. I'm sorry, but--"
"No, I want to hear it."
"Aren't you suffering right now? You just lost your father, somebody you love, for gawd's sake."
"I know, but--"
"Margaret," it's good to be still, to feel, to grieve. It's not time to volunteer, and, in fact, it may never be the role for you. You have other gifts, like just being who you are, being present to others, listening, making people laugh. Do you realize what a gift it is to be heard? Besides, I can't see you in the Mother Teresa role." (That was a relief, neither did I.)
But I'd been pushing the feelings inside until I became like a motorized toy wedged beneath the sofa, whirring, pushing, but not getting anywhere.
"Thank you," I said, "for stopping me."
I shared that my writing teacher had written a kind letter when I sent her my scene for tonight. She said that she was glad that I was slowly regrouping, and I wondered why my expectations of myself did not feel slow and I did not feel a regrouping taking place. I expected to be in motion again, doing the things I'd planned before Dad's condition spiraled.
It seems that whatever I suppress comes out in other ways anyway, like a tube of toothpaste that gets stepped on. That sh*t is going to go somewhere.
With all of my avoidance, was it a coincidence that my main character's ship was sinking? Or that he, who could not swim, was saved by his grandfather? Or that while the boy clung to the board his Grandfather hoisted him onto, Grandpa''s hands were pried off and he was sucked off by a powerful tide and into a dark, jagged sea?
"If I wasn't Christian," Connie continued, "I'd be Buddhist. You know why?"
I could not wait to hear that one.
"Because Buddhists believe in connecting with their activity, being present to it. Can you imagine not thinking I have to wash these damned dishes, and instead actually experiencing what you are doing?"
Being present was not a new concept, just a forgotten one, kind of like being where you are while you're there.
Thank you Dad; thank you, Connie.