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It Wasn't Your Time
A fact I'm quite grateful for
A couple of days after you had your heart attack—after you called me, barely able to speak, to tell me that you were on a stretcher heading into the emergency room—after I sprinted through the rain-slicked parking lot of a sushi restaurant in torn flip-flops to my Jeep to haul ass to the hospital—after I called Elena as I hauled ass to the hospital, sobbing, to interrupt her day off spent baking kourabiedes to tell her that she needed to book a flight to Houston right away, at the same time that Mom was booking her own flight back from a conference in Colorado—after the doctors stuck a catheter into your wrist and inserted a stent into your left anterior descending artery, the blockage of which is termed the ‘widow maker’ for its propensity to end the life of its victims—after they told us that if you hadn’t acted so quickly and gotten John to take you to the hospital, which happened to be only a few blocks away, that if everything hadn’t happened precisely the way it did that you would most certainly not be here today—the four of us were sitting in the hospital as you reflected on the experience. You said something that I found to be unacceptable.
“I figured, well, if it’s my time then it’s my time.”
I get it. When it seems like there’s a reasonable chance that you’re going to die and you have no control over your circumstances, this is a natural response. I probably would have had the same thought.
But it was still unacceptable.
In our world, there are various conditions that must be met for things to exist. Fire cannot exist without oxygen. Plants cannot exist without sunlight. George Costanza cannot exist without something to complain about.
And our family cannot exist without you.
I don’t mean exist in a literal sense, although that’s also obviously true. I mean that you are our nucleus, the essential fiber that holds us together. Your intense, unwavering love is a sort of familial life force. The way your face lights up when you talk about your family is beautiful. It’s pure. We thrive on that love, and we were by no means ready to exist without it.
Nor was I.
Around the time you had your heart attack, I was deeply struggling with my own existence. I had lost my way. Now, five years later, it’s striking to think about just how different things would be if it had been “your time”. There are many reasons for this, but three in particular come to mind.
The first is simple: I needed you. Your love and support got me through the darkest days. I would not be here without it. I know this to be true.
The second reason is that the qualities of yours that I’ve imitated were essential to transforming my life from one I had no interest in being a part of to one that I marvel at every day. The persistence and confidence to turn what you want into reality; the ability to see the big picture and understand where all the pieces fit; the courage to act decisively and commit to your path—all of these were required ingredients in my recipe of transformation. If I hadn’t had you as a model for these virtues, I wouldn’t have found them anywhere else.
The most important reason, though, is that I wouldn’t have gotten to watch you realize your own dream of finally moving back to your birthplace: the city of the Beach and the Bay, of the Excellent Restaurant, of the roads paved with gold. I wouldn’t have gotten to watch you radiate joy as you walk through the sand next to your lovely wife, my lovely mother, talking about how wonderful it all is. I get the biggest, cheesiest grin on my face when I think about this. To say it’s a pleasure to observe would be an understatement. It brings me an all-consuming peace, a sense of alignment with the universe, to know that you’re living this life you so deeply enjoy.
I understand that at some point it will be your time. This is a gut-wrenching thought, one that makes me unbearably sad. I feel like I’m going to puke every time you bring it up.
But if I stay with the nausea for a few moments, if I let it flow through me and run its course, I also see the other side of this coin of mortality. The fact of our impermanence gives each day a profound significance. I’m so deeply grateful that we have more days together, that it was not yet your time. That you’re still here. And that all of our lives are so, so much richer for it.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love you.