There’s a Christmas scene in the television series The West Wing (4th season, episode 10), in which Toby Ziegler walks his estranged father past a group of choristers performing in the lobby. “I’m having the strongest memory,” says his dad, looking transfixed.
So, what are my tears about? Is it seeing two grown men standing near each other, the younger unable to forgive his father for all manner of transgressions, the older wishing to make peace before it’s too late. Is it about my own memory of turning against my father early on and being too self-centred to turn back before he died? Is it about wondering what it would be like to have (had) an old dad so that we could talk man to man, son to father, about life, loss, and love? Is it about caring for him as his heart weakened and his mind softened; as he withdrew into himself, living alone with a shepherd dog and a wire fence, letting no one come near but the woman who became his widow? Is it about envying friends who talk to me of their ageing parents with dementia and other infirmities — and me wishing that I could have (had) a dad and be able to take care of him?
Yes, I too am having strong memories. Fact is, he’s long gone and I’m still here. If I were to say all this to him right now, I think he’d point to the last lines in a Mary Oliver poem:
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
source: Oliver, M. (1992). “The Summer Day” in New and selected poems. Boston: Beacon Press, p. 94. Full text.