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Monday, January 21, 2013

Fathers, Alabama, and Phone Calls in the Night

Dear Friends:

I ask that you indulge me for a moment as I share a story from my life that just drives home the incredible importance storytelling has for us human beings.

I received a phone call the other day from Alabama. It was one of those calls that comes at an odd hour, from a half remembered number. The way the phone rang was not right, and I knew, before I picked it up, that I was not going to enjoy the conversation - turns out I was right.

My father suffered a massive stroke and I was needed. Of course I went. The drive from Florida to Alabama is a long one. Lot's of time to think, to remember. I am sure each of you could write the story of my memories on that drive, the things about which I thought. Experiences shared and moments almost forgotten bubbling to the surface as the wheels turned and the miles rolled by.

I met my uncle at Helen Keller hospital in Sheffield Alabama around 16 hours later. The news was about what you would expect and so we began, in the practical way of our kin, to make arrangements. My father was one of eight children, 6 of whom are still alive, and most of them eighty years or older, with a couple of them in their nineties. I have more cousins than the population of some small towns, and as we began to wait for nature to take its course we gathered at my Aunt Mott's house for lunch, homemade chicken stew and cornbread, finished off with a chocolate cake made from scratch. Sweet tea was served.

As we gathered around the table we shared the stories of our family, the sum total of what it might mean to us to be a member of our Rose Garden. It is a garden filled with all sorts of flowers, and as my aunt Katie reminded us, "All of the men sure seemed to have their share of thorns, but the women were generally beautiful." 

The stories that flowed around that table were in and of themselves innocuous.  Some funny, some tragic, most somewheres in between the two. But that is how we remembered who we were, and redefined yet again who we are. It was how we touched the solid hearthstone of our shared lives, our family history. We told stories, about my dad, about chickens, about my grandfather, and his grandfather. About Shiloh National Park, Spring Gardens Alabama and everywhere in between. Through those stories we remembered, brought together in fellowship.

As I sat there, over a simple meal I was bathed in the glory of my people, through the stories of life they shared, trusting me to honor, to understand and to keep faith. Each and every word was a promise of love, a gift of understanding, a balm for a sad and troubled heart.

There are lots of things one does when moments come in life where loss becomes part of what it means to be alive. I have been thinking about it a lot this week, as you might imagine. In these moments the way to acceptance, to understanding, to the light, has always been through a story. In stories my father is alive, young and vibrant, with a twinkle in his eye and a knowing smile around the corner of his lips. He is standing by my grandfather, probably getting ready to go fishing. Some day, through stories, if I am a fortunate man, I will be standing there too.

Makes you think about how powerful storytelling is when we really define what it means to be a person. I think I might hold that close in my heart as we lay him in the ground this week between his mother and his brother. The next time I see you, if you ask nice, I might tell you an Alabama story that should never be put in print, but will surely make you smile.

Till then,


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