Oct 212015
 

Dear David & Kathryn,

Yesterday, on the suicide hotline, I spoke with a young man who is struggling greatly as he nears the end of his high school career. A number of years ago, life opened before him a horrific, hellacious valley. He fell in and was held captive for too many years. In the past year, not wanting his life defined by the choices that caused his fall, he found the courage to claw his way out of the abyss.

One of the miracles of the hotline is that callers, desperate for help, will often open completely and allow a glimpse into their heart and soul. This young man certainly did. I was witness to a heart filled with wisdom, generosity and love. And while his beauty was so very clear to me, all he could see were the mistakes that led to his trip into hell. He was nearly blind to the miraculous nature of his recovery. I was in awe of his courage on the journey.

Nearly an hour into our time together, I paused and said, “I don’t say this to many callers, but I love you young man. I am in love with who you are, and who you are becoming through the struggles you have faced, and the courage you found to overcome.” He began to cry. Through his tears he said quietly, “I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because you’re the first person who has ever told me they loved me.” In that moment, I found it impossible to hold back my own tears. How could a young man preparing for college, never have been told he was loved or lovable?

As I reflected on story of this young man, I thought of the two of you. I would be heartbroken if I thought there was even a moment in your life in which you thought you were either unloved or unlovable.

I am in awe of the two of you as well. I am inspired by the joy, creativity, wisdom, generosity and love that flow from each of you. Even if I have told you before, it cannot be said too often: my heart nearly bursts with love and admiration when I think of either of you…and the miracle you are in my life.

A sage in ancient India once observed a knife that can cut anything, cannot cut itself. As humans, we can easily see in others what we cannot witness in ourselves…just like the young man I spoke with yesterday. In moments of sadness, loneliness or challenge, even if you must take it on faith alone, remember you are truly loved, lovable and are a miracle in the lives of those around you.

Love,

Dad

Jun 142015
 

As we approach the 4th of July, my thoughts turn to the founding of this nation, and a person I particularly admire: Thomas Jefferson. I admire his wisdom and depth of knowledge across many disciplines. In this moment however, what gives me pause is not his insight into the failure of the Divine Right of Kings and emergence of democracy. I am reflecting on what I can only imagine was his, and his wife Martha’s deep understanding of the value of human life.

Martha Jefferson had seven children. John Skelton, conceived with her first husband, died at the age of three the summer before she married Thomas Jefferson. Of the six children she bore in her ten-year marriage to Thomas, only two daughters, Martha and Mary lived into adulthood. Two daughters and a son died as infants. The sixth died of whooping cough at the tender age of two.

Burying children must be one of the most difficult things any parent can do in life. Today, we consider it to be contrary to that natural order, but in times past, it was certainly not unusual.

For most of human history, life expectancy has been short… perhaps 25 years for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. During the early 1600s in England, life expectancy was only about 35 years, largely because two-thirds of all children died before the age of four.  Life expectancy was under 25 years in the Colony of Virginia, and in seventeenth-century New England, about 40% died before reaching adulthood.

I wonder, as a result, if our ancestral parents had a very different sense of the miracle of life. Did living with such a profound understanding of life’s fragility permit them to look upon their adult children with deeper appreciation and love?

Judi and I had, and still have, two children. In the 30+ years since David was born, I spent few moments worrying about his or Kathryn’s successful journey into adulthood. Medical science gifted us with a sense of safety, and belief in the vigor, rather than fragility, of human life. I always believed, regardless the malady, a trip to the doctor or the emergency room would present an appropriate remedy.

I wonder how my relationship with them might be different if Judi and I had had six children and buried four of them before David and Kathryn reached adulthood. How could it not be? How could I not see them as even more miraculous than I do now? How could I not worry every day I might yet have to lay one or both of them to rest before my life ends?

Not long ago, I was introduced to a man whose 18 month old son succumbed to sudden infant death. My heart breaks for him. But it cannot possibly break in the same wrenching way it would if I had shared the horrific experience of having to say goodbye to a child.

I am thankful there are support groups for parents who have lost children. But in this age, a grieving parent must search for others who share their unimaginable pain and heartbreak. Martha and Thomas did not have to search for support groups that would gather from hither and yon. In virtually every direction, there were others who shared intimately in their loss. Caring hands and hearts were everywhere. No matter where they traveled, there were others who understood, as did they, just how astonishing and miraculous human life truly is.

Do I wish a return to a time of ever present grief from the loss of children? No, I certainly do not. But I am aware of the paradox that, in our safety and comfort, we have surrendered some amount of wisdom and appreciation—perhaps significant amount—for the miracle of life itself.

May 222014
 

There are moments that emerge unexpectedly that remind me to slow and be witness to miracles.

Many years ago, I published an interview with a favorite author, Peter Block. One of the most touching moments came when I asked about his children. He said, “I always knew that the kids were the most important thing that would ever happen to me in my life. And If I was ever going to witness a miracle it was watching them grow up.”

At the time my own children were…still children. Today, as they continue to find their paths into the world, I have a much more vivid interpretation of Peter’s words. I woke this morning to a text from my daughter, Kathryn, with an attached picture. She said…Necklace

10 years ago, you bought me a beautiful and unexpected present for my 8th grade graduation. Today, I wore the same necklace to receive my Masters degree from John’s Hopkins! Thanks for everything dad. I love you.

I am reminded of a letter I wrote to her when she participated in a Kairos retreat in high school. The words I was given are truer today than when I wrote them so many years ago…

Why is your presence in my life a miracle? How else can you describe the flowering of someone so beautiful from soil that so often seems coarse and arid? As hard as I have tried, as much as I wished to be a perfect parent, I grieve over the endless times I failed. I am saddened by the hundreds of times you longed only for a listening and compassionate ear, and I found it necessary instead to attempt to fix or teach. I lament how often the stress of my life intruded on yours in the form of unjustified anger and frustration. I mourn the lost opportunities when a different kind of attention would have nourished you in more abundant ways. And yet, in spite of my failings, you emerge as a caring, compassionate, fervent young woman. Beauty is always a miracle. Too often we simply fail to take the time to sit quietly and be witness to it.

I am thankful every day for David and Kathryn, and that I was chosen to help shepherd them into this world. But days like today remind me to sit quietly and simply be witness.

Aug 262011
 
Last night at Operation Snowball, the evening ended with a conversation about spirituality and how often we find ourselves in a spiritual state. The discussion ended with me. I quoted a friend who, before she died, expressed concern that her life might have been a “throw-away line.” I said I did not want my life to end without meaning and that spirituality was the search for that meaning. I am not sure that answer matched the grandeur of the question. Perhaps no answer could, but allow me one more attempt.
If I glance at my hand, I am aware that every atom of which it is composed was once part of a star. Suddenly I am in awe of the miracle that the trillions of atoms in my gaze have come together to form this body and consciousness. In light of the incomprehensible nature of such an occurrence in this Universe, how could any life possibly be a throw-away line in the play being written amongst the stars?
Spirituality for me is to simply be in awe, and to discover, in my own feeble way, how and why such a miracle could take place. And now that it has, to contemplate my responsibility to those stars, the Universe in which they existed and the force that created them. I have a role in the play; I just need to discover my lines.
I hope to live many of the remaining moments of this life in deep awareness and extraordinary gratitude.
Jan 072010
 

Note, this letter was written in 2007 when my daughter attended a high school retreat. She was recently elected President of the Illinois Wesleyan University Student Senate. I am reminded again of the words I was given 3 years ago…

Kathryn,

To describe your presence in my life is nothing short of describing a miracle. For nearly 17 years I have been witness to the emergence of a woman with extraordinary, innate talents and nearly limitless potential. The care, concern and love you exhibit for those around you moves me. The love of life you radiate brightens my world. The passion with which you pursue that which matters inspires me. The self-confidence you exude amazes me.

So why is your presence in my life a miracle? How else can you describe the flowering of someone so beautiful from soil that so often seems coarse and arid? As hard as I have tried, as much as I wished to be a perfect parent, I grieve over the endless times I failed. I am saddened by the hundreds of times you longed only for a listening and compassionate ear, and I found it necessary instead to attempt to fix or teach. I lament how often the stress of my life intruded on yours in the form of unjustified anger and frustration. I mourn the lost opportunities when a different kind of attention would have nourished you in more abundant ways. And yet, in spite of my failings, you emerge as a caring, compassionate, fervent young woman. Beauty is always a miracle. Too often we simply fail to take the time to sit quietly and be witness to it.

When I was about your age, on the Feast of the Epiphany, the church to which we belonged hung a HUGE banner with a picture of Snoopy, from the Peanuts comic strip, with an ear-to-ear smile, leaping into the air. Underneath it read, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God on Earth.” Kathryn, when I think of you—and your presence in my life—my hearts leaps much as Snoopy did so very many years ago. And if that kind of joy is an infallible sign of the presence of God on Earth, you are that sign in my life.

Long ago I stopped trying to describe the love I feel for you. Some feelings—and those of a parent’s love for a child are among them—are meant simply to be experienced because they are beyond the limited facility of language. Love transforms. It will have to suffice to say that my love for you makes me more whole, more fulfilled and more complete. I am more human because God saw fit to allow you and me to share a portion of our journeys.

I wish you a life of joy. I wish you a life in which you too will experience often the gift I experience in you.

With endless love and admiration,