My father had a real gift when it comes to the written word. The tragedy as I’ve seen it in the past is that, like Flannery’s father, he never had a chance to live out the legacy of his literary talent.
But as the days inch closer to the first anniversary of Dad’s death, I feel less the loss of his words, and more just the loss of him. In Dad’s passing, I’ve realized so much about what we lose in death. It’s not so much the things that have been said or written, but the love that has been poured out. There was no question in my mind as he passed on January 11, 2013, that Dad loved me. And in the end, it all came down to that, and that only.
During his living, I wondered about all the writings he never accomplished after he put down his pen, and what a sad thing it was that he couldn’t, for one reason or another, fulfill what I saw as his God-given mission. His writing was terrifically clever, but certainly not simple. It took some kind of genius to string together the rhymes that delighted my sister and me so much as kids.
But was it the writing, or the thought behind the words? Lately, I’m thinking more the latter. The fact that he would stay up nights concocting the next story just so we would find these little treasures in the morning says so much more about the heart of him than his actual talent.
Does it really matter that he wasn’t on the bestseller’s list, even though I know he could have been? Or that he never won a Pulitzer, or some other prestigious honor? His skill was totally on par for any of those things, but it’s not where his journey led him. The shining moment of his writing, as far as my sister and I are concerned, was the writing he did just for us, in the quiet of our little home. It was a gift, both of love and also of his caring for the written word and its power to transmit ideas and feelings; to transmit love.
There was a time I felt a sense of responsibility about carrying on his legacy as Flannery felt during her prestigious, though short-lived career (she died of lupus in her late 30s). I felt somehow that the writing I was doing, and the success I was having, even if comparably small next to Flannery’s, were somehow helping to complete Dad’s unfinished legacy.
But I’m rethinking that now, realizing that perhaps Dad carried out his mission after all, in the simple act of giving extra tight hugs, and letting his daughters and grandchildren know that no matter his limitations, he loved us all, deeply.
What if rather than spending my life trying to fulfill his unfinished legacy, I realize that it was fulfilled, and see my writing as just a continuation, not of his legacy but of his love?
I rather like that idea, and think it honors what his life was really about; not being an award-winning writer, but a dad, husband and grandfather who wanted, more than anything else, to let his family know he was proud to be part of our lives and that our existence mattered to him.
The best thing about this is that it’s not something that stops when the pen slows down. It’s something that goes on forever. I can’t see his words anymore. Many of them were burned in a house fire. But I still feel his love, even through the veil that separates us.
If he’d given the world wonderful words but not shown us love, that would have been the real loss, the real unfinished, untried, undone legacy. I’m grateful that his legacy was of love even more than words, even as I continue to cherish that he passed down his love and power of words to me, too.
May the perpetual light shine upon him, dear Lord, now and forever. Amen.