A Rock and a Soft Place
Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time. ”
– Georgia O’Keeffe
Relationships are precious, above all things in my life. Before I recovered, I didn’t really know how to engage them. My relationship with my parents was barely superficial, but I always wanted to know them. I wanted them to know me too, but we just didn’t have a language that would penetrate the inner worlds of our emotions. It felt like we lived in an aquatic museum as the observer; watching captured things float by, always at a safe distance. I thought everyone lived this way, until I started to visit other people’s homes, and I was in awe that they actually talked to each other, and cared a lot about how they were experiencing their life.
I carried that distant perspective into every significant relationship in my life, and the pain of not penetrating that emotional barrier got intense. I longed for something I couldn’t name, let alone touch, and I hadn’t a clue how to get it. So, I drank to get numb, instead of interact, or expose myself.
Something changed when I began to know myself, name my feelings and share them with others. I felt seen. When that happened, my life began to change too. Living in the Healing House for Women really opened me to the day-to-day nuances of intimacy, and I am forever grateful for the women who taught it to me. It felt like the first time in my life that someone actually cared how I felt about my day, and what I saw in it, instead of just reporting about it, like I was an observer. And, I began to open; to myself first, and then to others. It still blows me away when people ask me how I am and stay around for the response; with their eyes, their attention and their hearts. It feels really good.
All that said, it was my father that gifted me with a precious perspective about communing in relationships, despite the limitations of fear. I began to think of him fondly this week as the messages of Father’s Day float around, and after watching the love of a father light the world, as he returned to visit his children. It was only natural to wish that my Dad could know me now, and me him.
My Dad was planning to retire in 1988 and I worried about his health and what he would do with his life without the structure of work. He didn’t have hobbies or friends back then, even though he was a really charming man. I actually feared that he might not live long. So, while on business in Sun Valley Idaho, I sat by a cracking fire one morning and penned him a letter. I told him that I was sorry for several things that had probably hurt him, and that I was really happy and would have a good life. I shared my concern about his retirement and the vacuum it might create, as well as my hope that we could now spend some valuable time together. Something dark and deep had happened between my father and me, and he could never speak about it. My mother gave cryptic and ill-timed bombs meant as revelations, but they felt more like accusations, and I never could clearly understand why I stopped being comfortable around my Dad as a young woman. After I moved away to go to law school, he would cry every time I said goodbye on the phone, but I didn’t know why because he couldn’t tell me.
When My plane landed in Marquette on a snowy night before Christmas, my father stood first in line to greet me, wearing a Thomas M. Cooley sweater that I gave him for his birthday. It warmed my heart, and gave me courage to leave such a humble gift for him under the tree. Wearing that sweater said he loved me, and my rock was going to tell him that I loved him too.
On Christmas day, he opened the letter, as I left the room. Not intentionally, but it was one of the last gifts he opened, and I needed a bathroom break. He had tears in his eyes when I returned, but didn’t say a word about the letter. Neither did I.
My father died the next year, just as I had feared he would. When my mother and brothers were in his bedroom going through some of his things, my mother asked if I wanted to take anything of his with me. I decided on some white t-shirts that he always wore and his blue monogrammed bathrobe. We had morning coffee together many times as he wore that robe, and I wanted to feel that tenderness. My mother gave me the robe and I put it on immediately, because it still smelled of him. I put my hand in the right pocket of the robe and felt something round and hard. Before I could see it, I knew, and I was already crying. It was the rose quartz crystal that I had given him for Christmas. He had kept it close to him, in something he wore everyday.
I have never felt such love for, or from, my father, as I did in that moment. It didn’t matter what we hadn’t said, and it didn’t matter that my gift was a simple rock. He received my love and returned it by keeping it close to him. I don’t think that we ever could have shared intimately like I do with so many of my dear friends and family today, but that is okay now. We did the best we could with what we had at the time, and it was beautifully, enough.