I stood on the beach in Panama City, Florida and gazed at the great expanse of water before me. I watched the waves roll in. I was six. My first time at the beach. I did that for several days. I noticed that while the great expanse never changed, the movement of the waves did. One day the waves rolled in and other days the Gulf was as flat as a kitchen floor.
I remember thinking, “I wonder where the men are who turn the wheel that makes the waves bigger or smaller.” I envisioned this big brick building where burly men in hard hats regulated the tides.
I knew my dad would know. My dad was a god. He knew everything. And how reassured I felt when I realized that he not only knew everything, he pretty much controlled everything…well, especially as it pertained to me. Nothing bad could happen to me as long as my dad was around.
Well, that was at the age of 6. But, at the age of 7 or 8, something happened and I realized that my dad was not a god. My dad was a man! How disappointing!
“How could my own father do this to me? How could my father turn out to be a man?”
“His head was ‘gold, his chest and arms were silver, his waist was bronze, his legs were iron, and his feet and his toes were iron mixed with clay.” (Daniel 2:32&33)
I was 27 and in Clinical Pastoral Education and told my supervisor about my dad. I was angry and unkind. He did this. He didn’t do that. He was…. And, do you know what my supervisor said to me?
He said, “So?”
So? Didn’t you hear me?
“Can you think of ways in which you are like your dad?”
Like how? Like…like..that I am not the son of a god?
“Is it possible that you are a man too?”
I stood by the casket of a great 87-year-old man.
His best friend, another great man, stood beside me.
We looked down at him together.
His friend said, “Do you know what he thought the first few seconds after he died?”
I turned to look at him. “No. What?”
“How could such a thing have happened to ME?”
We sometimes cannot bear the thought that those upon whom we most depend are ordinary people. Oh, people greatly loved, for sure! People greatly valued, created in the image and likeness of God, oh yes, but..you know… people nonetheless.
And, as we learn soon enough, we are just like them. Ordinary people feeling our way forward listening, listening, listening for guidance, for assurance, the Voice that makes all things well…at least not as bad as we think.
As anthropologist Gregory Bateson once wrote:
Men are grass.
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Yet we need some people to be more than they are! Someone! And, if they can’t be that for us anymore, we enlist ourselves.
“I am the Master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!
But, here we all are, relentlessly human.
We project upon certain of our loved ones that ‘more than they are‘ bit. And, when they die, we are stunned: “how could such a thing have happened to him?” And, when they die, we have to admit: indeed, he was,.. she was…after all….mortal.
I looked down at my dad. Dressed in his Sunday suit, he lay still and quiet as stone. I touched his hand. Cold leather. Brittle…like a 200-year-old-shoe.
Only the Sunday before, or so my mother told me, he had dressed in that suit for church. He walked into the living room where she waited to leave. He said, “I sure look purdy, don’t I?”
We rode with him out to the city cemetery. We passed through town. Cars pulled to the curb out of respect but people walked oblivious on the sidewalks. They entered and exited stores that walled the town streets. They sauntered as if it were just another Tuesday.
Apart from the curbed cars, nothing stopped. No one stopped. Business went on as usual. Money exchanged hands. People gabbed. Some had the audacity to laugh. One man slapped another man on the back. He threw back his head and he-hawed.
I wanted to roll down the window of the car. I wanted to shout out the window, “What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know what has happened? Don’t you know who this is? Show some respect!
My dad..my dad is passing by.”