Love Letter to the Living

Dad…people are leaving a lot these days.

I lost a friend. And then a friend lost her father, and then another. I guess I panicked.

And the sentiments shared are so touching, bloomed from a well of dripping emotion. In grief we can’t help but feel. We are transformed. We are tenderized in loss.

But in life? Why do we push it down, keep it submerged? How about I tell you now, while you’re still here!

Do we feel foolish to express such love to a living person, so we shout it to the heavens once they’ve gone?

Vulnerability now would be a vulnerability much more effective. But maybe a vulnerability too uncomfortable. 

Maybe we spare each other our sopping sentiments. The receiver is often fidgety, overwhelmed. Emoting is not necessarily a gift. We are probably better served by constant, concise reminders. “I miss you. I love you. You mean a lot to me.”

Yet I vow to write songs or books to honor my loved ones and their lives. Each welling of nostalgia sends me scheming notes and themes, and titles and plots. But then the moment passes and I get back to a life more practical than running around singing my devotions. I put it off, the book is postponed, the notes stay on the page, and meanwhile you never know how much and how potently I think about you. Or the impact you’ve had on who I am.

Like, do you know…

That I am you in so many things I do, and in doing them I swell with pride. That when I wash dishes I picture you on the boat, your rough, calloused hands scrubbing scraps from plates, and swishing a half-cup of precious fresh water round every dish, recycling each drop, to rinse a sink full of suds.

Or that as I sketch my design for a deck, I remember watching you draw on that blue-washed graph paper, or a scrap of wood, half the pencil in your hand, and the other half chewed to splintery bits in your jagged teeth and beard.

And as I build my perfect tree house home, I think of each creative hut you made. The ship-like cabins. The square shacks with screen all around, open-air, plexiglass skylights above the bed, so I could watch stars and rain in my private teenage retreat from the hard years.

I think of you when I mix epoxy to fix my surfboards. When I turn on the sander. When I jury-rig and reroute a wire, when I improvise or invent a fix. I imagine you saying, “That’ll be fine,” which always gives me courage, even as I worry about a fire.

I think of you when I’m under my car, or look down at greasy hands, or when I catch myself humming an incessantly repetitive tune, caught in some infuriating, meticulous task. Or in my sudden bursts of rage, the pent up tension of too much silent focus, exploding in low, growling curses, or balled up fists, or short, sharp punches on an innocent project. Even then I feel comfort, and pride because I share your DNA.

Or…when I am sensitive to the world. Or compassionate to someone’s pain. Or awkwardly loving. Or immeasurably fair to another creature. 

I am you, and I am proud of it. Do you know how important you are?

And you’re still here, so I am lucky. So why wouldn’t I tell you. Sorry if it’s uncomfortable.

Someday there will be a book, and maybe a song. There is already a title. “The Pirates of Great South Bay,” about you and your Long Island shenanigans. But I don’t know when that will happen. So for now there is this, because everyone should know how important they are, because sometimes we doubt it, or forget, or never realize. And that is a tragedy.

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