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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Big Man

We did Vietnamese for lunch to celebrate my sister's birthday today (followed, physiologically improbably, by Mexican for supper -- but that's another story). Once, maybe twice a year, as many of us as are in DFW at the time go for Pho at one of the many good 'Nam restaurants in Arlington. Today while making plans on the phone and choosing a place to meet, my sister suggested we go to the one we'd all been at most recently.

Here we all (minus sis taking pic) are on New Year's Eve Eve last year, at the long middle table my family takes over when we arrive.


Today we were minus three -- bro-in-law David at work (somebody has to bring home the bacon!), nephew Timo at soccer tournament out of state, and dad/Grandpa in Heaven.* One waiter (restaurant family member) took our orders. One brought our food and drinks. One stopped by to check that we had everything we needed. I noticed him greet another customer warmly, with familiarity. I consciously thought (maybe said something out loud -- I'm not real clear on the distinction between thought and spoken or written word too much these days, oops in advance), "Why don't we get most favored customer greeting?" Then he stopped by our table again, looked at my mom, and said, "I see you come in, you usually have big man with you. Is he okay?" My mom said, simply, "No, he died." The manager said something like, "Oh. Anyone need any more water," or something like this. My sister said, "He didn't understand Mom." I went up to pay at the counter. He said, "You usually have big man with you." I said, "He passed away, about two weeks ago." "Oh, we are very sorry. We all remember him here. He always wore a hat." He said a couple more things I don't remember exactly. But that was it. They knew my dad, they knew us. It felt sweet.



I often think about the importance and mystery of "being known." I have been struck, even in the perhaps quickly cliché-ing bits about his hats (he had a lot of skin cancer and was protecting himself outside; his bald head and circulation left him cold so he was warming himself inside) and quietness, that people really did know my dad. He wasn't his hats or his books or his quietness, though he was these things, too. He was (relatively) easy to know because he was honest and true, not simple.

I don't know if "big man" is a differently meaningful term in Vietnamese language or culture, but the almost literary irony of it in reference to my dad's incredibly shrinking physical presence over the past few years struck me while nevertheless capturing the truth of his role in our lives.

Okay, enough eugoogolizing for now. But, it's true, what I'm saying.

Then we went to my sister's house where half the family took naps.

The end.

(*I'm not ready to say or imagine that yet, although I absolutely do believe. I needed to say something here, and I couldn't leave it at "heaven," because I want to say something more specific than that, but I can't. "With God." But we're with God. "In eternal life." But our lives now are connected to our eternal lives. What is heaven? The pastor's message yesterday at my dad's service got it right - it's fullness of life. It's unimaginable to us. It certainly is to me, and I'm not thinking these days about what exactly it means, other than sureness of being whole, complete, and with God forever. Is he aware of us? What happens to time/space for him? It matters more to me now to think about, but also less.)

1 comment:

The Honorable Mrs. Cobbey said...

Although the memorial service was good, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. Since I have emotional issues ie I can't cry easily even in the face of big events like death, I had hoped that I would be able to release some of my sadness through tears(this might sound a little naive and contrived but that's just the truth)and yet it wasn't like I expected.

I realized later that the reason this happened is that, other than what you and Luther wrote, I felt like it was a little bit surface-y (I'm just being honest not critical.)

Obviously, I understand that there is no way to fully encapsulate your dad into a mere 2 hour service. The fact that one can't capture the life span of a person in such a short time may be the reason that you felt that your "Family Memories" was fakey and why Luther was not 100% satisfied with what he wrote (I heartily disagree with both of you.) It might be the feeling of "this doesn't fully capture the real man."

I think when you said "He wasn't his hats or his books or his quietness, though he was these things, too." that you really hit it on the nail.

I think as people, we have a tendency of minimizing ("minimizing" not in the pejorative sense but just out of a need to simplify) people into little compartments of our brains which explains why people categorize others with descriptions such as quiet, loud, gregarious, studious, humble, out-going, etc. But when we hear the limited descriptions by acquaintances and dear friends of people we dearly love, it might seem incomplete and a little unsatisfying.

I realize that most of the people who were at the memorial service had meaningful relationships with your dad and could describe your Dad's amazing character for hours. But time was limited and (I believe)they were honoring him by NOT overly praising his nature because they knew his very essence of humility.

And yet that was the one thing that I craved. I think that I wanted to hear all the reasons why Dad was such a Big Man through other's memories. But I suppose our healing will come in small daily doses, little by little. A memory. A thought. A story. Sweet & humorous anecdotes. And when other people point out his absence.

It's logical and expected to assume that a stranger will miss the fact that we have had a recent big loss. They are strangers after all. But I have to agree with you, that it IS a sweet salve when some unknown person does ask unexpectedly about your dad and despite their limited association, recognize the big absence in our lives.