Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


Author of wild, unpredictable circumstance: my dad

2005 China Slide Show 001Eight years after my father’s death, a memory of him blooms as faithfully each June as the flowers erupting all around.

Days after his death, I was lamenting the achingly empty rooms of his house when something pulled my attention to his back garden.

The brilliance waiting there nearly bowled me over — I remember literally gasping to get my breath back. Every bush, shrub, and bulb he’d ever planted seemed to be in bloom at once, ecstatic testimony to the indomitable nature of life itself.

That indefatigable blooming brought to mind the last bit of gardening we’d done together the year before. Dad had a little strip of land on which he planted impatiens each year. That June, I’d spied two trays of them on his patio and realized that, since he could barely walk any longer, there was no way he could plant them. September 2007 225

We were quite a team that day, “helped” by his ever-eager miniature schnauzer, Patsy, namesake of the saint on whose day she was born. Dad churned up the soil with a long-handled trowel while I followed, nestling the little plants into place. It had just rained so the job was messy, the mosquitoes thick, and Patsy a determined quality-control inspector (i.e. right in my face) as I hunkered over those beds.

I knew the task was one of the very last things we’d do together.

Year by year, I discover the many intangibles my father helped bring to bloom. The day of my UMass graduation, he pulled the car to the side of the road on a rise that overlooks Amherst (he was inclined to try and execute things with a flourish), turned around to where I sat in back, and announced: “You graduated. And you did well. But most important is that you kept going. You didn’t give up. In time, you’ll value that more than anything else.” 11010530_988410544523863_8454246950852480917_n

This June’s new bloom is the next book that will take wing soon, the one on which I’ve been working since right after I met his eyes and watched him take his last breath that June day in 2007. As steeped as The Munich Girl is in Germany and World War II, he unquestionably had something to do with the wild combination of unpredictable circumstances that steered me headlong into it. (Wild combinations of unpredictable circumstances were one of his hallmarks, too.)

And yes, yet again, he was absolutely right about the value of perseverance, whose importance always becomes more visible in the light of time.

IMG_7118Thinking about plants and growth, I’m reminded of an instance in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá counseled someone who’d experienced the loss of a loved one that while the pain of physical separation remains for those left behind, for the one who dies, it’s as though a wise and kind gardener has transplanted a struggling plant to a wider, more welcoming place where it can reach a whole new level of growth.

Many things in life, as well as death, bring that home to us each day.

Bloom on, Dad. And thanks for that reminder, much more useful than my degree ever was.

coverthumbFrom Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.

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A father’s gift of prayerful confidence

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Painting: Judy Wright

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

As I reflect with gratitude on the role my children’s father has played in their lives, I recall the tone he set right from the start in connecting them with the resource of prayer.

Following surgery, our toddler daughter, returned from the recovery room swathed in medical tubing, looking lost in a cage-like crib that prevented us from reaching or touching her.

“Please say prayers,” her tiny, post-anesthesia voice croaked as we hung over her, feeling helpless. Not quite 3, and she already knew exactly what to do first in any uncertain situation. Her dad had stood over her every night at bedtime, from the day of her birth, and recited the prayer for healing she no doubt then also knew by heart.

When her younger brother came along, we whispered prayers into his tiny ears, too. Both children also saw our own prayers as a part of daily life. (“Thank you for being quiet now. Daddy is praying.”)

But one day, our small son showed me that using prayer and having confidence in it are very different things. I know instictively that this is something he learned from his dad. I was driving a pretty exciting sports car that my husband’s brother had loaned us while our own car was in the shop. As I was driving to pick up our son at his preschool, it started to snow. At first, it was just a pretty coating on the trees, but by the time I reached his school, wet snow was coming down fast and had covered the roads.

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Painting: Judy Wright

I picked up our son, and as we pulled away from the school, seat belts safely fastened, the big racing tires on that car sent it into a frightening spin. After I regained control, I realized that it was going to be a very difficult drive home on twisting back roads. I was scared, and remember saying something out loud that was surely a prayerful plea.

I saw my son fold his hands, drop his head, and remain silent during that 20-minute crawl that usually took 10. When we reached our driveway, he released a large exhalation of relief and asked, “Is it OK to stop praying now?”

I looked at him, astonished, and realized that this was what he’d been doing as I’d struggled to get us home safely. And of course, his 5-year-old’s literal logic simply knew that those prayers had done their job, right?

The prayer he had used is one that many Baha’is throughout the world employ when faced with challenges: “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!”

This was a somewhat long prayer for such a small boy to have committed to memory. He referred to it at the time as the “e-mover.” He had, quite possibly, first begun to hear it said out loud when his father would say it when we saw an auto accident on the road as we traveled.

The unity and love in a family bestow gifts on every one of its members. The inner confidence our children learned from their father about the power of prayer continues to help me learn that everything benefits when prayer is applied to it, and that every answer, whatever its outward appearance, is a blessing.