On Monday I woke up meditating on being an orphan; at least thinking about what it meant to have lost that earthly connection to both of my parents. My dad died 14 years ago and Monday was his birthday. My mother died about 10 and a half months earlier. I was not so successful at processing the grief of my father’s loss, but I’d learned a lot since then, and I have been much more able to be with the sense of loss around my mother. Still, it has not been a simple process, and it’s intensified my awareness that I have more work to do around the loss of my father, whose tragic death from being hit by a car, still resonates in a much less settled way.

So, on Monday I went to the site of his death, which is only a mile from my house, to meditate for a few minutes. Then, as my wife and I drove to a lake house rental for a few days of relaxation, I thought about him quite a bit. That night while meditation on a kayak as the sun set, I watched the waves ebb and flow into each other and it gave me a lot of insight into how we put up all kinds of defenses to protect ourselves from the energetic waves of our feelings, and that these defenses can’t stop the waves and, instead, only make them grow stronger. As I floated there I worked on being more present with my sadness around his loss. I didn’t have any kind of big release of grief, but I did feel profoundly more settled.

Over the next few days, we got up at dawn and kayaked and paddle boarded on the water. My wife and I saw a number of Blue Herons, my mom’s favorite bird. These Herons were very vocal – like my mom – and we thought a lot about her. They weren’t traveling in pairs, but one evening two passed by in unison, and we talked about them as if they were my mother and father. There was something very calming about spending hours floating and exploring. I also took the paddle board out and meditated while sitting on it before the sun came up over the trees. The gently shifting water was oddly grounding, or settling, as it seemed to emphasize the transient nature of stillness and of thought. Last night, as I took one last paddle, there was a crazy amalgamation of grey clouds that looked a bit like a skull, and it reminded me of my mother in her last hours. I hadn’t taken my phone out on the water because as much as I loved capturing the light, the water and the reflections, I was also conscious of the import of not capturing them as well.

About an hour later, as I laid in bed drying off from a bath, my wife came in to tell me that my daughter wanted me to take pictures of her and her friend. It was almost dark and her pictures were apparently too blurry. I knew that I wasn’t being asked to take pictures that I wanted, but ones that she wanted. Even with my best intentions, she is rarely satisfied with my efforts. I took a few with a flash at her request but they were not very good. I urged her to come a little closer so we could get away with the lights from the doc. My daughter and her friend were having a good time, laughing and yelling, and falling off the board. I texted a couple of the funny ones to my older daughter who had already headed home.

This is one of the blurry ones of them falling off the paddle board. It was hard to keep it still, so they would point the paddle to me and I would grab it and ground them so I could get an image. I showed them a few which got grudging approval. They fell off again. My daughter was telling me what she wanted different and they floated away. As she pushed the paddle board towards me, my phone got knocked loose and as it tumbled I could see it spin and then I saw it fall in the water. Her friend jumped in after it, but it was gone. I stripped down to my underwear and dove in. It turned out that I could almost stand in the area, so I thought it wouldn’t be hard to find. I couldn’t really see though, and within moments the water got even cloudier as the silt rose from the bottom through the movement. I felt along on the bottom, increasingly frustrated that it was so hard to find even though the area was small, knowing that the longer it was in there the less chance there was that we would be able to save it. After about 20 minutes, maybe a half an hour, it was clear that it wasn’t going to appear.

I checked in with myself and was kind of shocked to recognize how much I had been able to find acceptance. As I searched I wasn’t replaying the drop with regret, or overcome with frustration. As stated, I was somewhat frustrated that it wasn’t where it seemed like it should be. But I was less frustrated that it had happened. Even in that moment, I was conscious of being conscious of the need to accept it. I wasn’t going to make it un-happen, and I knew that trying to do that would only lead to suffering. It has been a very long road to unravel those seemingly automatic responses. I’m not perfect at it, but I am very far down the road from where I started. When I gave up the search, I said to my daughter, “I don’t think this was your fault, but I do want you to think about how your attitude (of being continuously frustrated that I don’t make the pictures as she wants, or the food like she likes) makes it difficult for me to help you, and in this moment of difficulty I hope you can just be with that.” I wasn’t angry, but as I thought about it, I could see that even though I wasn’t blaming her it might have felt that way, so I addressed it with her again this morning and made sure that it hadn’t felt like I was “sideways” blaming her.

Afterwards, I rinsed off and then got on my computer to look into getting a new phone. I rely on it a lot; too much really. I had backed up my photos a few days before the trip, and most of the new ones I made were now gone. However, I had sent a few to friends, so I had those (and they are here on this post). My filmmaking partner David said he’d figure out the new phone so I just let that go and I thought a lot about using this moment to let go of my over-use of the phone. I slept better, and longer, last night than I have in a while. This week I have been waking at dawn to paddle and I enjoyed it. I let it go today and went back to bed. I woke groggier but more rested than I have in a while. I thought a little bit about my Dad. He hated having his picture taken, and there are times I feel like his spirit interrupted my photography. This felt connected in some way, but less like an interruption than a gift. Of course it’s not obviously a gift to lose one’s phone in the water. I wouldn’t call it a wake up call either. Instead, it was a gift of awareness of how much progress has been made, and how long the road still is. Last night as I paddled, I set out for a spot farther than I had gone before. About halfway there, I realized that I didn’t need to continually push farther. So, I turned around and paddled back. I’d gone far enough.

We are rushing to get out of the rental house this morning, but I sat down to crank this out because it was all in my head when I woke up. I thought about going down to look for the phone in the daylight. I know I would probably not find it, and I decided to let it go.

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