Last month Dad turned 90 years old. I, along with my 2 brothers and our families gathered in Tulsa to celebrate. We laughed a lot and for the most part avoided touchy subjects. But mostly we told stories. They were stories packed with memories, the kind that sustain life by giving it roots and some sense of belonging.
In my mind I found myself moving through the details of my life with this man, holding each event up as if through a microscope to clearly examine what has so significantly shaped me. I was looking for a theme that could hold all the experiences. And then it became clear: I had learned about choices.
You see, my dad should have died in his mid 40’s when he had a massive heart attack while away on a business trip, where, instead of coming home, he spent a month hovering between life and death in a distant hospital. Dad was a driven man with one goal, to rise far above his childhood depression memories and give his family what he never had.
It’s what happened after Dad was released from the hospital that was so amazing. My dad chose to live. And in order to live, he had to change, well, everything. In stark contrast, Dad’s hospital roommate, ignoring Doctor’s orders to avoid any strain, went home the day he was released from the hospital and mowed his lawn, dropping dead in the process.
Two men with massive heart attacks, both released from the hospital on the same day, both given strict orders to rest, both wanting to live, but one died that day and the other is still living 45 years later.
Choices don’t sit in a vacuum, and they are meaningless if they aren’t supported by congruent action. There is a constant vigilance that life asks of us, to examine what it is we say we want and what it is our choices reflect.
In a world that seems to have gone mad with violence, wishing for peace has little impact. It is the moment to moment choices we make that will contribute (or not) to a safe and compassionate world.
Thank you, Dad, for showing me that my choices, no matter how small, require a daily diligence.