The Dying of the Light

It’s been eight years since my father was hit by a car and killed. Tonight I walked down to the spot to spend some time with him. Like so many other Jews who were born during depression, and then grew up during the war and its aftermath, my father wasn’t very religious. He was an academic, and I think that while he eschewed religiosity, and was as cynical as is legally allowed for a parent, there was something about him that could only be described as soulful.

When I was in high school and he saw me reading “The Great Gatsby” he recited the last page from memory. When I was trying to write a paper on Dylan Thomas he helped me to understand the anguish at the heart of “Do not go gentle into that good night”.

I did not want to be an academic, so when I went to college I simply took classes that interested me. By the end of my sophomore year I had completed a major in religious studies without even meaning to. I liked to kick the tires and look under the hood but I had no interest in buying into any sort of orthodoxy, be it Judaism, Christianity, Secularism, or Academicism.

My sense of spirituality was, and still is, infected by my father’s cynicism. This distrust of almost everything, has often eaten away at whatever belief I might have about spiritual affairs, but my sense that there is meaning in that realm persists. The word that keeps coming to mind, that I feel like I’m avoiding, is God. Not in the sense of the long-haired, harsh, monotheistic deity but instead in that feeling that there is something, energy perhaps, that exists beyond our understanding. Some of us get closer to it than others, and some get too close.

I had that feeling tonight as I walked from my home towards the traffic light where he ended up in the front seat of a car going 50 miles an hour. When it happened I was living in New York, and I called him at about that time. He wasn’t home of course, so my message was on the machine when I got down to North Carolina the next morning. My mother had dropped him off at the light so that he could walk to a basketball game. She went to park farther away. He was having a lot of trouble with pain and stiffness that affected his movement. Perhaps he started across the street and the light changed before he was ready. Maybe he was stiff enough that he couldn’t see the car coming. In truth, I often wonder if he had just given up. I also wonder if perhaps he considered giving up and then changed his mind. In any case at the moment of impact I have no doubt that there was panic. How could there not have been?

A couple of months ago my mother mentioned that he had been to the doctor that very day and he’d been told that “the treatments he was doing himself to relieve increasing symptoms of either rheumatoid arthritis or some form of ALS, weren’t working.” I’m not sure what that means exactly. He was exercising and taking some supplements to reduce inflammation. He was doing Yoga as well. However, as far as I know he had been given no clear diagnosis, so he had also been given no clear treatment.

About a quarter mile away from the light I was walking with my eyes closed and I felt a burst of energy that surprised me. I kept moving and it subsided. I thought about him crossing that road. He was probably shuffling a bit because the pain and stiffness bothered him. My brother took some pictures of him around New Years. He was crooked much of the time. I don’t believe in clear concepts of heaven and hell. However, I do believe that when we are prepared to go, our transition into whatever lies beyond will undoubtedly be smoother. So I also wonder, or rather, believe that even if he had no intent to go smashing into that good night, that the way he went most likely trapped him in that space in some sort of limbo. I’ve been talking about this a lot with my friend Juan. If he died in a panic, does he need assistance in letting go.

I moved back to my childhood home, from Brooklyn, this fall. I drive through that intersection almost every day. I rarely think about it. I have wanted to go and just be there much more often than I have. Tonight I stood there for a while and meditated. I felt a little silly leaning against a power box, but I closed my eyes, listened to the cars whizz by, and I focused on my breath. After a few rounds of cars had passed I started to bang my hand on the power box when a car went past, simulating the sound of it hitting someone. In my head I was repeating, “I’m here Dad. I’m here.” I wanted to connect with him, or that part of him that was still there.

After a couple more rounds of cars I was brave enough to speak audibly. “I forgive you Dad,” I said a couple of times. Then it was, “Can I help you? Can I help you?” I really do believe that a part of him is stuck and he needs help getting unstuck. Though I’m pretty unclear on what I might do to help him, except perhaps just be there for a while. After a bit, I pulled out my phone and took a few pictures of cars speeding through the intersection, then I turned and left.

On my way back I was thinking about him when I looked to the woods on the side of the road. It was about the same spot where I had gotten a strong feeling before. I spotted what at first looked like a grave stone. It was more likely a tree stump or a log. We can see signs in nothing, and sometime nothing in signs.

UPDATE : A couple of days later I wrote this follow up piece.

  • Maura
    Posted at 06:34h, 06 February Reply

    This is very beautiful Michael. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Brook
    Posted at 15:41h, 10 March Reply

    Awesome Michael — thank you so much : )

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