My thoughts turn to you frequently in the wake of your breakup. My heart feels your pain, but I know the limits of distance, physical and otherwise. Your life is not mine.
There’s only so much I can do/say/help… and it is bittersweet. Bitter recognizing the bounds of territory where I cannot help; cannot transfer my learning; cannot suffer your pain for you. Sweet recognizing how amazingly you handle life on your own, and how I learn more from you, each passing year an unfolding revelation.
Is this the core or curse of parenting: Holding on and letting go? Trying to find the sweet balance on the razor’s edge between being there enough and being there too much?
Yet my thoughts turn back to you, in a mutated “Serenity Prayer,” wishing the best and trying to offer what I can, slowly learning that sometimes the best I can offer is my silence, and taking a long time to know the difference. All I can say is I’ve started operating on my “gut” a little more, and writing this feels like the right thing to do.
You’ve asked when you will get to read my memoir. Someday. Down the road. I can’t say exactly when, but part of it is relevant now, in dealing with this first, deepest cut you are living through.
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Dad sporadically sent me letters — out of the blue (not unlike this one to you) and of varying clarity, depending on what cycle he was in — if he’d stopped taking his meds; was manic or depressed.
Sometimes the letters were pleas for relevance, a curriculum vitae of third-party testimonial — that others saw value in Dad’s existence, even if I apparently didn’t. One of these people was a prisoner in the Nevada Penitentiary, a client Dad had defended in court. Though Dad clearly lost that man’s case, the prisoner felt eternally grateful that his lawyer cared to defend him when no one else in the world would. How do I know? Dad sent the man’s letters and artwork to me to show how much even criminals loved him.
One poem, titled “My Lawyer” — a paean to Dad’s “heroic” efforts; an expression of forgiveness for losing the case, leaving him to serve time – came along with the pencil-“illuminated” envelope in which it had been sent, covered in a pastiche of X-rated scenes, dragons and demons, and one image of a nude woman with a scimitar coming through her back, drops of blood dripping from its tip, where it exited her breast.
He may have forgiven my Dad, but that prisoner’s letter revealed he apparently was still processing other issues. I suppose I could draw the same conclusion about my Dad’s letters to me, including the many that contained The Desiderata.
The Desiderata seems to just “be.” It seems to have a nebulous arrival story for all who encounter it. The site where I got the poem link says it was “Copyright Max Ehrmann, 1952.” I had encountered it as a backing vocal to a minor hit in the early 1970’s. Researching the song, so I could send you a link to it, I discovered Ehrmann is credited with writing the poem in 1906, and copyrighting it in 1927. The person who used it to win a Grammy for “Best Spoken Word Recording” in 1971 had its words flow into his awareness — like endless rain into a paper cup — on a flyer, stuck to a San Francisco telephone pole, which claimed “Found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, dated 1692.”
Mis-attribution precedes the Internet. Sampling precedes rap.”
— Abraham Lincoln
(Yes, that Baz Luhrmann, of directorial fame, behind one of your buddy Leo DiCaprio’s flicks, “The Great Gatsby.” P.S. I still hope you’re using enough sunscreen! What is with these “_hrmann” people delivering spoken word parental lectures that become pop hits? I digress… my thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox.)
The Desiderata in the song is delivered over a late sixties “Age of Aquarius” pre-disco star-child tune. But the video is worth watching for a cool star-trail photograph, focused on Polaris, which I know you’ll like.
I assume Dad learned of The Desiderata during one of his treatments in a mental hospital, perhaps in some group therapy. He could have stumbled upon it elsewhere, as it seems to float around. He was a voracious reader of all-things philosophical.
The Desiderata letters from Dad always arrived with a hollow thud in my life, as I could not see any context, relevance or value to me. Nothing’s going to change my world! Dad’s letters were about him. One more unwanted parental lecture, I thought. In my case a lecture from a parent who had completely abdicated his parental soap-box throne — when he left the family when I was 13, and who showed little to no interest maintaining contact thereafter. An aspect of his nature or illness I will never know.
It takes time to discern lecture from love.
(That should be a line in the God-damned Desiderata!)
As you know, in hearing me talk of writing my memoir, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what good and bad can be extracted from my experience of Dad. I’ve tried repeating the good lessons I learned from him, and avoid repeating his failures – often failing again, as you and the “Give me your God-damned phone” incident would attest. No doubt you can list others. But as my story progresses, I’ve come to see this poem as one of the good things. I come back to it (it comes back to me?) constantly. I marvel at how much life wisdom it contains, and at how eagerly I rejected most of it when I was your age.
A quick analogy: My work in business process improvement taught me that “You can’t skip evolution.” After working through the same basic problem with dozens of companies, I knew they all would move eventually move from phase 1 to phase 10 in the process. I would try to demonstrate how, if they took specific actions in phase 2, they could skip ahead to phase 5. None would do it. They would not (or could not) make the leap. Companies, like people apparently, need to make their own decisions, have their own experiences, and grow from them in their own time.
My life, and parenting, too, has shown that no matter how much wisdom or education is delivered by schools, friends, parents, or mentors, each of us learns at our own pace. Each of us is responsible for unfolding our own universe at the pace that suits us best, figuring out a path through this wild, wonderful, untracked wilderness.
Though I know you may or may not see any value in the “gift” of The Desiderata, and though I have supposedly learned that I can’t help you skip evolution, I’m passing on one of the few pieces of my Dad’s wisdom that I can truly say has become more valuable to me every time I am brought back to its verses. Consider me your San Francisco telephone pole.
I hope The Desiderata’s words bring you some peace, some crumb of relief or perspective, in your current struggles. I wish you the continued best in finding all that is good, loving, worthy and fun in this Universe. Things happen to us, whether we want, expect or seek them. Some say “Shit Happens.” Others say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I prefer Ehrmann’s take on the serendipitous, inexplicable things we encounter and those we give birth to in creative response: “No doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.”