Only Love Does That

In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs us all that we are
and will ever be
Yet it is only love
which sets us free
Maya Angelou

My father was 82 years old when I moved East to start my job with the U.S. Senate Budget Committee after graduating from college. I worried that something would happen to him while I was gone, that I wouldn’t be there for an illness or a fall or simply that I would miss out on what in hindsight would turn out to be limited time with him. But he encouraged me to go, insisting that it was more important to live my life than worry about him.

In December 1983, six months after my move, my parents called on different extensions to tell me that Dad had been diagnosed with colon cancer, that they had already gotten three opinions, chosen a surgeon and scheduled the surgery. Two hours later, I walked out in front of a car on my way home from the metro, worried and lost in thought. Thanks to some unseen grace, the driver saw me, honked and stopped in time.

I talked to no one at work about what was happening. I was one of the youngest on the Budget Committee staff, and 10-25 years younger than my boss and the other analysts on our team. Dad wouldn’t let me return home early, saying he would see me at Christmas as planned, so I waited the long hours on the day of his surgery in my office, trying to distract myself until Mom called to say that all had gone well. Dr. Johnson, the surgeon, said the cancer was contained in a single tumor that had burrowed into the large intestine and a portion of the colon instead of spreading, and he had been able to remove it with margins. I waited until I knew Dad would be back in his hospital room and awake enough to talk and called him.

Just hearing his voice made me want to cry. “Oh, Dad .. how are you?”, I asked with relieved eagerness. In a voice still hoarse from the anesthetic but strong and clear with just a hint of impatience, he said, “I’m fine, honey. I told you I was a tough old bastard.”

Dad lived another twenty years, long enough to walk me down the aisle at my wedding and to know and love both of my kids. When Jimmy was three years old, Dan and I went to Hawaii for a corporate sales trip, leaving him with Mom and Dad for a week. When I asked how everything had gone, Dad said, “If someone had told me that I’d live to be 94, I would have thought they were crazy. If someone had told me that I’d be babysitting a three year old at the age of 94, I’d have really thought they were nuts.”

When I went into labor with Molly, five days early, Mom and Dad jumped into the car and drove up from San Jose in time to pick up Jimmy from an afternoon playdate and bring him to the hospital to meet his baby sister. Although a “Temporary Ischemic Stroke” or TIA put an end to their trips to Sacramento the following year, we visited frequently. Dad began using a walker, and Molly would often get impatient at the breakfast table, announcing, “Poppa is moving too slowly!” as she waited for him to appear. He loved to sit with Jimmy and Molly at the breakfast table, listening to them talk and marveling at how many piece of Hallah bread with butter, cream cheese and jam they could pack away.

I’ve thought often about what a gift it was when Dad encouraged me to take the job in Washington, D.C. all those years ago. He didn’t think he’d live as long as he did, telling my mother he could only promise her ten years when they got married. Knowing how much he would miss me, he was still willing to encourage me to launch my career and begin my journey into adulthood. His grace and generosity in setting me free allowed me to do the same for my children as they both set off for college and as Molly traveled to other countries and moved to England for graduate school. Just as I did all those years ago, they carry my love with them, encouraging them to be brave and tethering them to home at the same time.

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  • RememberKala says:

    What a beautiful, touching story. Thank you for sharing!

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