Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Sound of Bells ...

"The truest end of life is to know
the life that never ends." - William Penn

Dad always wanted a son. In fact, he'd already chosen the name Harold for his first child. Unfortunately, during a routine exam, a tumor was discovered, and my 26 year-old mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Only three months along, the doctor assured Mom the only way to save her life was to perform an abortion with a complete hysterectomy. She refused and swore she would have the child and survive. Mom is now 62 ... and so ... I was destined to be my father's only child.

Dad adjusted to the idea of having a daughter and never looked back. We were so close. I was daddy's little girl and went everywhere with him. I spent summers fishing on various boats, "helping" him run errands, and, in general, being a very small shadow. He sang to me ... something he never did for anyone else. He even made the greatest sacrifice of his life for me.

See, my dad was a Marine. Not just any Marine, mind you ... he had Yankee White clearance. We were stationed in Quantico, Virginia, and he served aboard Marine Corps One. We have pictures of my dad working with the president and all sorts of memorabilia of that time in his life. Our relatives would regularly come to D.C. for tours only an insider could give them.

But it was 1970 and times were turbulent. Dad left the White House for a tour in Vietnam and Mom moved us back to Illinois to wait for him. I was young and missed him terribly. It broke my Dad's heart that his daughter was growing up without a father ... and so, when his tour of duty was over, he came home. He gave up the Marines (and a lifestyle that he loved) so that I would have a dad who came home for dinner. You can't imagine the amount of guilt I carry from his decision.

In any case, we were close for years until I became a teenager and we began to drift apart. He was a guy ... and how could he possibly appreciate anything I was going through? I clung to my mom and talked to her about everything ... while my Dad stayed on the outside. I disappointed him with my choices in men ... I disappointed him in my choices in friends ... and so further and further we drifted.

When he had his heart attack last September, it was like everything had been wiped away. We needed to be close again ... and so we made it happen. For months I've talked with him everyday ... sometimes twice. He tells me stories I've never heard ... perhaps because I wasn't listening. I tell him stories he's never heard ... perhaps because he wasn't listening.

The macho Marine, who I thought would never be interested in my "girl" conversations, was just waiting for me to talk with him ... and I almost found out too late. If you're reading this and you aren't close to your dad for whatever reason, take a minute and call him. Or take a minute and go visit with him. Or take a minute and write him. Whatever ... just take that minute. Don't wait until your first real conversation in years takes place in a hospital room.

Something strange happened last night. Dad didn't sleep again. He said when he dozed off, he could hear the most beautiful bells ringing and, since he just wasn't ready to go yet, he stayed awake until mom woke up. What makes it weird ... is that last night I kept thinking I could hear the phone ring ... then I'd think I hear the door bell ... over and over. But the phone wasn't ringing and no one was at the door. Then mom tells me he's hearing bells ... I don't know whether to be comforted or disturbed by that news.

He used to listen to the bells of St. Mary's
As they would echo through those early days
And sometimes even now he thinks he still hears them
Though they're but a thousand miles away

Leo Sayer - Bells of St. Mary

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