Category Archives: family

My Father’s Blessing

When I toddled into the kitchen one Saturday morning,
my father was eating breakfast.
I stared at him, rubbing my eyes in astonishment.
“You comed back!” I exclaimed.
He opened his arms and I ran to him,
not quite believing he was real
until his arms closed around me
and he nuzzled my face with his stubbly cheek,
ten thousand tiny whiskers prickling my skin.

Dad was a student minister then,
and I saw him only on weekends.
He spent the week in Denver, studying theology,
then on Friday night he rode the bus back home
to our lonely outpost somewhere in Kansas.
His absence was like the absence of God:
“He’s there, but you just can’t see him,”
my father explained.

When he was older and wiser,
my father shocked me by saying,
“I don’t need to defend God;
God can take care of himself.”
He put his Bible on the bookshelf
and started preaching from The Denver Post.
One day he raged that another convicted murderer
had been executed in a neighboring state’s electric chair.
He ended his sermon on Sunday with a question:
“Would Jesus Christ pull the switch?”

Of all my father’s sermons,
I remember only this fragment,
and I hold on to it fiercely,
the way I once held the blessed bread
of Holy Communion, so I wouldn’t drop it,
or the way my young father held me
when he came home on weekends,
nuzzling my face with his stubbly cheek,
ten thousand tiny whiskers prickling my skin.

© 2011 by Magical Mystical Teacher

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Tribute to a Veteran

My dad was a World War II veteran, but he never served on the front lines of any major—or even minor—battle. His service to his country started at a summer military camp when he was in his late teens. As I child, I was impressed by the faded photograph of him, dressed in his uniform. I think he thought (as many young men and women still do) that a steady job with three square meals a day was preferable to living in poverty, never certain when—or if—the next meal would come.

But Dad’s perceptions changed radically the day of bayonet practice. When the drill sergeant ordered him to drive his bayonet into a dummy dressed like the enemy and twist it, he knew that he could never kill another human being, no matter how seemingly “just” the cause. Dad’s short-lived love affair with the military was over.

Not long after that first bayonet practice, Dad announced to his parents that he was going ask his draft board to classify him as a conscientious objector. My grandmother was so distraught that she threatened to kill herself, but neither her histrionics nor the local Methodist minister’s vehement opposition to Dad’s decision could dissuade Dad from following his conscience. Despite the “war fever” sweeping the country, he convinced his draft board that he was indeed opposed to all wars on religious grounds and he was drafted into Civilian Public Service.

For the duration of World War II, Dad served both as an orderly in a hospital in Connecticut and as a “human guinea pig.” As part of a medical experiment, he volunteered to be injected with hepatitis virus. The photograph of my emaciated father smiling wanly while lying in a hospital bed is indelibly etched in my mind. Because of that experiment, he was never allowed to donate blood to the Red Cross, although he longed to be part of that organization’s disaster-relief efforts.

In popular images, heroes almost always wield deadly weapons. My dad wielded the weapon of love. After the war, he went to seminary and became a Methodist minister. He spent the rest of his life building bridges between people, not destroying them. He was the greatest hero I ever met.

My dad. The veteran.

Like a Great Tree Felled

Like a great tree felled
you crashed to the floor, broken
and forever stilled.

© 2009 by Magical Mystical Teacher

The Classroom of Bereavement

I’m in a different sort of classroom this week, the classroom of bereavement. There are no rules here. Anything goes. The student may do pretty much as he or she pleases, so it pleases me to write about my brother’s death, and to try to make some sense out of what appears to have been a completely senseless act.

My sister was the first to break the news to me. She said that her son had received a phone call from one of his cousins, saying that her father was dead; my nephew then passed the news along to his mother. When she told me, I said, “What if it wasn’t J? What if it was some homeless person and J paid the coroner to keep quiet? What if this is all a scam so he can assume a new identity?”

If you knew our brother, you’d know that the scenario I imagined was not at all farfetched. Indeed, when I talked to the deputy coroner this morning, he told me that a number of people had called his office, concerned that J had faked his death.

But as I listened to the deputy coroner’s story unfold, I became more convinced that it was the truth—especially when I heard that J’s body had been positively identified by his ex-wife’s current husband, a law-enforcement officer.

There is so much more that I want to know, so many questions that I’d like to ask my brother: Did you really kill yourself, as the coroner has ruled, or did you underestimate the power of the two drugs you took at the same time, one an anti-depressant, the other an antihistamine? You tried, dramatically and unsuccessfully, to kill yourself on two separate occasions many years ago, once by slitting your wrists, and once by cutting your throat, so why “go gentle into that good night” with a mere overdose of drugs?

My brother will never answer my questions, of course. But as every good teacher knows, asking questions does not necessarily presuppose that there are easy (or any) answers. Teachers pose questions to stimulate thought. In fact, when my students don’t know the answer to a question I’ve asked, I don’t permit them to shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” Instead, I invite them to probe deeper by saying, “I’m not sure, but I think….”

I’m not sure about so many issues surrounding my brother’s death, but I think that if I keep listening to the Spirit of truth, one day I will see some good come out of this tragedy.

My Brother Is Dead

My brother J is dead.

He took his own life two weeks ago.

Inexplicably, his daughters chose not to tell any of the rest of our family until a few hours ago.

I have been estranged from my brother for many years. He was a chronic liar and could be incredibly cruel to anyone—including family—he believed had crossed him.

Still, he was my brother, and I have spent a nearly sleepless night, haunted by memories of our carefree and innocent boyhood together.

What happened? How did the little boy who adored me, and even said as much in a letter he wrote to me last year, turn into such a bitter, spiteful person?

Two months ago I discovered that he had committed identity theft against me by opening a credit card in my name and using it. Still, I cherished the hope that one day—maybe 10 or 20 years from now—he and I would be reconciled.

Now that will never happen.

My brother J is dead.