As my father slipped into a quiet and lasting sleep, I read to him. I sang. I shared my poetry and recited, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," which made me think of him, on his island, at peace. I performed a monologue from Our Town. I cried.
My father was a complicated person, and his role in my life was complicated. I have so many delicious memories of the long hours we spent talking in our little back garden on Lafayette Avenue, and memories of him crying - memories of a man of passion, recklessness, confusion, brilliance, laughter. When I was a teenager I thought that no one else could understand me with the same clear incisiveness, the same deep kinship. In the months before Dad passed away, I realized that he had shared that reckless soul with me - a soul tossed to shatter and reform on the rocky shores of life. Broken, healed, reborn.
I miss my father. I celebrate him, too.
I've never been much good with grief. Those who have died are not aware of their absence, and those of us left behind have been charged, I think, to be glad. Glad of the memories. Glad of the gifts our loved ones have given us. I have no desire to grieve. I sometimes feel cold and heartless when faced with the pain of others, because all I want to do is shout and dance and rejoice - to think of all the wonder of our tiny lives and to celebrate how deeply we have loved.
My father taught me many lessons. He showed me how to listen, how to examine, how to analyze. He showed me how to see the motivations and emotions which guided people, and he showed me how to turn those chaotic forces into art. He taught me to cry when my heart ached with beauty. He taught me how to laugh.
My father lived with so much music in his head that it sometimes seemed impossible to get it all out. There are things my father left undone. When you look at such a brief life it can be too easy to think of missed opportunities - what could have or should have been. That can be a source of grief. But I think about the words my father left me with and I know that, even if he did not reach every goal, every milestone - even if times were hard, and if he failed - his intentions were valorous.
Dad posted four words on Facebook which have been echoing in my head as a final fatherly command - pursue your dreams, vigorously. Those words were the culmination of successes and failures, of joy and despair, and I hold them close. My dad might not have been able to achieve every dream, but he did something which I think even he didn't understand - he touched so many lives. He had deep friendships and fond acquaintances and provoked strong emotion in almost everyone he met. And he didn't know, maybe, that those four simple words would light a fire in his daughter's mind. He didn't know that what he did, what he said, how he lived, could be just as inspiring as his music.
We live so much of our lives in fear. We worry about picking up the phone or listening to voicemail. We choose not to take risks. We don't know how to make or keep friends. We put off the things we desire, the true songs of our souls, because our dreams seem too far out of reach. We ignore or are ashamed of our addictions, we hide our illnesses, we pick apart our selves. We love, but guardedly. We wake up without waking.
And the world is so beautiful.
And it exists in pain. It exists in joy. Never one without the other.
Pursue your dreams, vigorously.
Our time here is short - and we have no idea how long or brief our lives may be. There's no appointed hour, no real warning, when we die. And if we live our lives in fear we waste so much of that minuscule time. And, like my father, we may have little sense of the impact we have - we may not understand that our smallest actions have tremendous effects. We must be fearless. We must shout, dance, and rejoice.
My dad was 55. He was young. He didn't do everything he wanted to do. But he did so much, and he left us with this charge to dream.
I'm going to honor that, as best as I can. I will fail. I will stumble. But I will be vigorous in the pursuit of my father's final wishes. I will be fearless.
Thank you, Dad, for everything. Your daughter loves you, and she listened.