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September 30, 2016

The Lessons That Remain After the Details Have Been Forgotten



My mother tells the story of a ball that we attended for my father’s work in what could have been 1998, the year before he died. 


When it was time to leave for the long drive upstate, I walked outside, bird cage in hand, much to my parents’ surprise. My small fingers wrapped firmly around the loop at the top, I insisted on bringing our pet bird at the time, with us to the party. 




My sensitive little heart had wanted to take him along for some reason that I don’t remember now.


My mother recalls I refused to get into the car without our bird. And she, appalled that my father was even considering allowing this, refused to get into the car with the bird. 


Who knows how long my father had been strengthening this skill of empathy- I just remember him being that way from my earliest memories, and I want to believe that he had been that way his whole life- he was so good at seeing things from my perspective- at imagining what I thought and how I felt.


But my own life has shown me that often our strongest qualities are developed out of necessity- that we turn out to be everything we needed at a point in time when we were lacking. 


In the moment that I was standing there in front of the car, cage dangling from my hand, my father perhaps understood that this was something that my child mind saw as equally rational and important. After a few minutes of tension between my parents, my father told my mother that, if his daughter wanted the bird to come along, the bird was going, even if it meant she wasn’t. Reluctantly, my mother got into the car, and sure enough, we drove upstate to the ball, the five of us and our pet bird.


I don’t remember the name of the bird or what the bird looked like- it was one of the many short-lived parakeets that we had had over the years.


What I do remember, and what is so vividly etched in my memory, is the image of the birdcage where my father had placed it, in the center of our round dinner table that night- a table that seemed so low in comparison to the ceiling above it. It was a grand party in a grand place, and if my father did happen to think that the situation might appear ridiculous to others, he cared more about making me happy.


Love is the only thing that overrides. And now it is all that I remember.


I remember at one point looking around at the other tables and realizing that no one else had decided to bring their pet bird with them. I realized in that moment what my father had done for me. No, this was not the place. And he could have told me that before we left for the drive.


But he chose my joy instead- the joy I ended up feeling that even I could not imagine when I had initially proposed to bring along our bird. It wasn’t even about the bird anymore. It had become about my father.


My eyes returned back to our table, following the tip of the cage, all the way up to the vaulted ceiling. I remember feeling like my father’s love filled that vast space and all the space around me.


He chose my joy and I cannot explain the joy that that gives me even now, decades later. He chose my joy and that makes me want to chose someone else’s. 


Looking back, I can see how it would be so easy to dismiss such an outrageous request. How it would be so easy for a parent to blurt out, “Well what do you want to bring the bird for?”




But then I might not have remembered that story.




Will you be remembered? And how?





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Copyright © 2016 Stop Sinking

Copyright © 2016 Stop Sinking