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Big Fish – My Father’s Death: Take 2 (An excerpt)

It’s been a LONG time since I have written anything…

But in re-reading one of my favorite books that is full of many good stories and excerpts; I wanted to share one of my favorite sections here.

A fella by the name of Daniel Wallace wrote the following in his book, Big Fish.  “Big Fish” is a little book that chronicles the life and death of Edward Bloom from his son’s perspective. It is an incredibly imaginative tale and I enjoy the style and format of the book.

The section that I feel compelled to share is nearly the entire chapter appropriately named, My Father’s Death: Take 2. The setting is the son sitting beside his father’s death bed in the guest room of their home, and it reads:

Slowly we lose our idiot smiles and just look at each other, plainly.

“Hey,” my father says, “I’ll miss you.”

“And me you.”

“Really?” he says.

“Of course, Dad. I’m the one -”

“Still here,” he says. “So it figures that you’d be the one doing the missing.”

“Do you,” I say, as if the words were being willed by a force inside of me, “do you believe-”
I stop myself…

“Believe what?” he asks me, fixing me with those eyes, those small blue eyes, trapping me there. So I say it.

“In Heaven,” I say.

“Do I believe in Heaven?”

“And God and all that stuff,” I say, because I don’t know. I don’t know if he believes in God or life after death or the possibility that we all come back as someone or something else. I don’t know if he believes in Hell, either, or angels, or the Elysian Fields, or the Loch Ness Monster. We never talked about these things when he was healthy…

And I expect him to ignore it now. But suddenly his eyes widen and seem to clear, as if he were siezed by the prospect of what awaited him after his death – other than an empty guest room. As if this is the first time the thought has occurred to him.

“What a question,” he says, his voice rising full. “I don’t know if I can really say, one way or the other. But that reminds me – and stop me if you’ve heard this one – of the day Jesus was watching the gates for St. Peter. Anyway, Jesus is giving him a hand one day when a man walks shuffling up the path to Heaven.
‘What have you done to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Jesus asks him
And the man says, ‘Well, not much really. I’m just a poor carpenter who led a quiet life. The only remarkable thing about my life was my son.’
‘Your son?’ Jesus asks, getting interested.
‘Yes, he was quite a son,’ the man says. ‘He went through a most unusual birth and later a great transformation. He also became quite well known throughout the world and is still loved by many today.’
Christ looks at the man, embraces him tightly and says, ‘Father, father!’
And the old man hugs him back and says, ‘Pinnocchio?'”

He wheezes, I smile, shaking my head.
“Heard it,” I say.

“You were supposed to stop me,” he says, clearly exhausted after the telling. “How many breaths do I have left? You don’t want me to waste them on twice-told jokes, do you?”

“It’s not like you’ve learned any new ones lately,” I say. “Anyway, this is sort of a best-of thing. A compilation.Edward Bloom’s Collected Jokes. They’re funny, Dad, don’t worry. But you didn’t answer my question.”

“What question?”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hes lived his whole life like a turtle, within an emotional carapace that makes for the perfect defense: there’s absolutely no way in. My hope is that in these last moments he’ll show me the vulnerable and tender underbelly of his self, but this isn’t happening, yet, and I’m a fool to think that it will. This is the way it has gone from the beginning: every time we get close to something meaningful, serious, or delicate, he tells a joke. There is never a yes or no, what do you think, here, according to me, is the meaning of life.

“Why do you think that is?” I say out loud, as though he can hear me thinking.
And somehow, he can.

“Never felt comfortable addressing these things head-on… Who really knows for certain? Proof is unavailable. So one day I think yes, the next no. Other days, I’m on the fence. Is there a God? Some days I really believe there is, others, I’m not so sure. Under these less than ideal conditions, a good joke somehow seems more appropriate. At least you can laugh.”

“But a joke,” I say. “It’s funny for a minute or two and that’s it. You’re left with nothing. Even if you changed your mind every other day I’d rather – I wished you’d shared some of these things with me. Even your doubts would have been better than a constant stream of jokes.”

“You’re right,” he says… as though he can’t believe that I have chosen now, of all times, to give him this assignment. It’s a burden, and I see it weighing on him, pressing the life right out, and I truly can’t believe I did it, said it the way I have.

“Still,” he says, “if I shared my doubts with you, about God and love and life and death, that’s all you’d have: a bunch of doubts. But, now, see, you’ve got all these great jokes.”

“They’re not all so great,” I say…

His eyes close and I’m scared, my heart jumps,  and I feel as though I should get Mother, but as I begin to move away he grips my hand lightly in his own.

“I was a good dad,” he says. A statement of not unassailable fact he leaves hanging there, as if for my appraisal. I look at him, at it.

“You are a good dad,” I say.

“Thanks,” he says, and his eyelids flutter a bit, as if he’s heard what he’s come to hear. This is what is meant by last words: they are keys to unlock the afterlife. They’re not last words but passwords, and as soon as they’re spoken you can go.

“So what is it today, Dad?”

“What is what?” he says dreamily.

“God and Heaven and all that. What do you think: yes or no? Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel differently, I understand that. But now, right now, what are you feeling? I really want to know, Dad, Dad?” I say, for he seems to be drifting away from me into the deepest sleep. “Dad?” I say.

And he opens his eyes and looks at me with his pale baby blues suddenly full of an urgency and he says, he says to me, he says to his son sitting beside his bed waiting for him to die, he says, “Pinocchio?”

So there it is…
Does it hit you anything like the way it does me?

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2013 in Book Reviews, Musings

 

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Life Is So Good

Life Is So Good
In a nutshell – this is the story of a black man born in Texas in 1898.  He lived during three centuries and 2 millenia.  Because school was not an option for him, he was illiterate – for a hundred years…  But, in his old age, decided he would like to go to school – and so he did.
 

The powerful thing (to me) about this story is not the obvious message of “you’re never too old to learn, and change your life,” but rather the message of “no matter what life throws at you – YOU are the one that is responsible for how YOU choose to live it.”

After reading it the first time, I decided it would be mandatory reading for my kids – even though I didn’t have any at the time.  Now I do have children, and recently I assigned my 10-year-old to read it.  Judging by the dog-eared pages, he is enjoying it.  My hope is he will love it as much as I do and glean from it some life lessons that will make him a better person.  Lessons like:
 
People are people – Don’t hold it against them – No matter what.
When George was 10 he watched a young teenaged friend of his get lynched for something the boy didn’t do.
He witnessed – as a kid – another kid get murdered by a bunch of angry white folks for something the boy did NOT do.
George could have spent his entire life hating white people.
George could have lived his entire life justifiably angry – there were plenty of folks there that could have and should have stopped what was happening.
George could have spent his entire life upset with authority – the sheriff watched over the situation.
Instead, George listened to his father who told him:
“Some of those white folks was mean and nasty.  Some were just scared.  It doesn’t matter though.  You have no right to judge another human being.  Don’t you ever forget.”
 

When you don’t know what to say…  Say the wrong thing.
This isn’t really something I necessarily learned, but it is definitely something I can relate to –
Unintentionally hurting someone with foolish words and not being able to fix it.

George was 14 and working on a white family’s farm.  They had a daughter (Ashley) not too far off from his age and she would bring them lunch in the field.  Ashley was one of the first white people to speak to George simply as a person – this being the early 1900’s, in Texas, that’s a big deal.  Her being a white girl, him being a black boy, both being teenagers…  that’s a scary big deal for him.
After sometime of Ashley trying to just talk to George  she asked, “George, why don’t you ever talk to me?”
He just shrugged. So Ashe asked, “You don’t want to talk to me?”
George nodded and mumbled, “Yeah, I guess that’s it.”
Now, that wasn’t it at all…
George could tell right away that was the wrong thing to say – as she turned away with tears in her eyes.  He didn’t intend to hurt her, but he did – and he never did find a way to fix it.
 

When dealing with stubbornness – don’t throw stones, use sugar.
On their farm they had a faithful mule that did much of the work.  Of course, mules have a reputation as being stubborn – ol’ Blue could be one of them from time-to-time.  George tells the story of one such time in which he could not get Blue to do what needed to be done.  In a fit – the only one he admits to – George picks up a rock and throws it at the mule.  Instead of hitting Blue’s flank, he hits the mule in the eye…  George hurt the animal pretty badly and carried the regret the rest of his life.  George knew how to motivate the animal using something the animal liked – but this time he chose to throw stones instead and did far greater harm than he did good.
Surely that’s a parable everyone can understand…

The story of George Dawson

Yes... Yes it is.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

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