Dad was the eternal optimist. To his longest friends and siblings, I suspect annoyingly so. He always carried with him a mound of statistics on any subject to demonstrate how the world was glorious and getting even better. From stats on declining world hunger and child mortality to the rise of the global middle class he could vividly demonstrate humankind’s accomplishments. And for greater effect he could, at will, throw in an example of how bleak your life would have been at the time of the Napoleonic Wars had you not been the first-born male of a wealthy family …. I believe the words he used were “cannon fodder.”
He was ever perplexed by any talk of the good ol’ days, because for Dad the best days were the ones he was already in. He took an active role in building up the good in the world by always giving the best of himself to others. And he was constantly encouraged by the promise that he saw in younger generations; most notably in his children and grandchildren. He would always say, with a tone of wonderment, “I wonder what Luke, Beth, and Ian are going to see in their lifetimes?”
And that optimism was driven by the people around him. That is not to say he surrounded himself with optimists, au contraire; he loved engaging with the morning breakfast crew whom, from Dad’s account, could spend an entire meal lamenting speed bumps on neighborhood streets as a proxy for the downfall of humanity.
On the few occasions I discussed religion with Dad he shyly described some of his ideas as heretical. Not because he believed them to be immoral, but because he had studied and understood the differing factions and their beliefs when the Biblical Canon was set. This was Dad. He read. And he read and absorbed everything; desperately wanting to follow and understand all sides of an argument.
The view from which he was speaking was his belief that every person held a spark of the divine within them. And, with that, he truly meant everyone.
One could leave a conversation with Dad having learned nothing about him because Dad was so endlessly fascinated with whom he was talking. He taught us that there was no such thing as a boring person, only boring questions. And when you were on the rare occasion able to get information out of Dad, his sharing came in the form of something he had learned from a cabbie the day before, “Guess how much a taxi medallion is going for these days?” or the postal worker, “You wouldn’t believe how many hours they worked over Christmas!” ……Are you catching onto Dad’s love of statistics yet?
Dad saw each person not just as endlessly fascinating, but almost worthy of worship. He loved to brag about the political change that Thomas was a part of and the lifesaving treatments Patrick was giving his fellow man. Dad never let a visit pass without proclaiming how proud he was of me. He saw my spark as being “oh-so-close” to the surface and wanted me to see it too.
“You would not believe how far some of the staff travel for work at St. Peters,” Dad exclaimed to Patrick one morning. He had been in the hospital for 2 days following his heart attack and had already extricated the daily routines of each one of the doctors, nurses, and attendants in the department. Even in a position of vulnerability and weakness, Dad was in awe of the people around him. And with this information had found another way to convey how proud he was of his son: “If they are willing to drive this far to St. Peter’s, it must be a fantastic hospital!” he said. But of course he thought that: Patrick worked there.
Dad saw the promise and the light within everyone in this room. And, driven by his beliefs, he worked to expose the spark within us. In this spirit, I challenge you to take up Dad’s mantel; recognize and bring out the divine in each other and in the world.
I love you Dad.
Reflection July 20, 2018