Gilead is a book from the point of view of a character named John Ames who is old and dying. The whole story is him writing to his very young son about life. This series of posts is about the notes my own father made in a copy of the novel before his passing. For more background, feel free to read the past posts in this series:
This will be the last post concerning my dad and the novel Gilead.
I’ve scoured the book trying to find even the faintest hint of a mark Dad left. I’ve looked and re-looked for any sign of underlining, brackets, dog ears, annotation in the margins, or even stray marks. The following excerpt is the last one.
It’s probably not surprising that this is sad for me. I’ve really enjoyed the time I spent pouring through Gilead, thinking about what the author wrote and how my dad interpreted it. This experience–that is, reading and pondering the text and notes–has been more powerful for me than writing. I’m not eloquent enough to fully explain my thoughts about the book or my dad. The ideas and feelings are a mess within me–it’s difficult to type them out. For all you writers, I’m sure you can empathize.
So it’s with a heavy heart I transcribe this last paragraph my dad marked with a bracket on page 142.
I say this because I really feel as though I’m failing, and not primarily in the medical sense. And I feel as if I am being left out, as though I’m some straggler and people can’t quite remember to stay back for me. I had a dream like that last night. I was Boughton [the narrator’s best friend] in the dream, for all purposes. Poor old Boughton.
There are still about 105 pages left in the book after this passage, but that’s the last thing he marked. If this blog post were a movie, the last quote would be about living life to the fullest or something like that. Instead, the narrator feels as if he is being left out and the world is moving on.
This may make my dad sound feeble. Although he was definitely weakened by his 2008 injury, he was by no means a weak man.
As we get older and watch the world zoom on without pausing, I can imagine it’s a disorientating experience. My dad wanted nothing of cell phones, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other new fangled creation. In addition to the j-curve of new technology and proliferation of information, my dad was troubled by all the bad things he saw or read in the news. I heard him say he was truly sorry his generation couldn’t have handed me and my children a better world. He talked about this often, as a matter of fact, and I’m certain he truly meant it.
So, that’s why I think he marked this excerpt. In many ways the world is becoming a more and more remarkable place. In other ways, however, the events we must bear witness to are almost too much.
I can’t end this post without talking more about Tom Johnson. When I sat in his seat at his dinner table after his passing, it seemed to me he was just at the supermarket, picking up a last minute item for dinner. At times, I thought he’d walk through his door any minute. I told this to my wife, and she admitted she felt the same way.
I’m such a lucky person to have been raised by my dad. Although no upbringing is perfect, I can honestly say I didn’t deserve all the love and support he gave me throughout my life. He was a blessing from God. I could have been any other man’s son, and I was lucky enough to be given Tom as my dad.
He was full of integrity and extremely humble. I knew what integrity was–even if I didn’t show it–at a young age because of his direction. This is also a blessing. I’m reminded of Proverbs 1:8, 9: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” I’m one of the fortunate ones who can read this verse and identify with its truth.
I guess I’m writing all this to say four simple words.
I miss my dad.
In spite of this, I feel a tremendous outpouring of grace on my life at the moment–I have ever since my dad went to heaven. I remember his life, almost seventy years, and I fully realize how short and precious our days on this earth are. We don’t have time to hold grudges. We’re wasting our minutes if we gossip or lie or covet or busy ourselves with any other actions that are unequivocally selfish. Our days have a number, and as each one closes, we are one step closer to seeing our Creator.
We need to love one another. We need to show love to all those around us. We need to love the people who are easy to love and the ones who are difficult. We need to love the orphans and widows as well as the prisoners. Jesus did this. He is our ultimate role model–the most important figure in all of history.
I’m giving myself over to sentimentality, and I try not to do this when I write, but I can’t help it now. I hope this can be excused. All I know is that the moment before I die, whenever that is, if I have time to look back upon my life I hope I showed a lot more love than hatred. I hope I was kind and not sarcastic, giving and not stingy, caring and not apathetic. Life is too short to be selfish. I need to be a better person, starting right now.
It’s on my heart right to share one last excerpt. It’s from my favorite book, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I can picture the last page of the novel right now. The protagonist, Alyosha Karamazov, is leaving the burial of a young boy named Ilusha. Alyosha is talking with many of Ilusha’s young friends and asks them to remember the departed boy right now in the present moment. They respond:
“Yes, yes, eternally, for ever and ever,” shouted all the boys, their voices ringing and their faces radiant.
“We shall remember his face, his clothes, even his little boots, and his little coffin…”
“We’ll remember, we will!” shouted the boys again. “He was brave, he was good.”
“Oh, how I love him!” exclaimed Kolya.
(Alyosha speaking) “Ah, my children, my dear friends, don’t be afraid of life! How good life is when one does something noble and true!”
“Yes, Yes” repeated the boys ecstatically.
“Karamazov, we all love you,” erupted one voice, apparently that of Kartashov.
“We love you, we do” they all joined in. Many of them had tears glistening in their eyes.
“Hurrah for Karamazov!” Called Kolya, carried away.
“And eternal remembrance for the dead boy!” said Alyosha emotionally.
“Eternal remembrance!” the boys joined in again.
“Karamazov,” cried Kolya, “is it true what religion teaches, that we shall all rise from the dead, that we shall live again and see one another again…?”
“Certainly, we shall be resurrected, certainly, we shall see one another again and we shall tell one another happily, joyfully, everything that has happened,” replied Alyosha, half laughing and half overcome with emotion.
“How marvelous that’ll be,” burst out Kolya.
“Well now let’s have done with talking and go to his wake…” laughed Alyosha… “Now we’ll all walk hand in hand.”
“And always, all our lives, we’ll walk hand in hand! Hurrah for Karamazov!” Kolya shouted again ecstatically, and once more, all the boys echoed his cry.
May we all have loved ones at our funeral who act like this. May we all be brave and good. May we not be afraid of life. Today, may we all do something noble and true. May we love all those we see and all those who have come before us. May that love be generous and kind.
God, thanks for my dad. Thanks for all your blessings. May I treat everyone as you would have me treat them.
Father to son
Son to father
Fly the huntsman
Carry the fire
All rolls on
The world will yearn
The Circle widens
The pages turn