catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 22 :: 2005.12.02 — 2005.12.15


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Dear _______________,

Probably, you were kissed once and it felt like the end of your living, and it felt like the beginning of life, like Genesis and God sticking his hand in your side and turning a key and you flitted around for days after that on auto-pilot, on angel-pilot, and that key in your side just kept turning and turning until one day, it ground to a stop, and you wanted it again, wanted that first turn so badly that the key began to feel like a splinter in your bones.

You know you didn?t make it up, couldn?t have made it up. You go back and check your diary and photos and movie-ticket stubs and all the scraps and stones you kept piled up somewhere to remind you that I-was-there and it-was-real. All that evidence is right there in your hands, heavy on your palms like a petrified bird nest. If you do not now, you will one day wonder how sweet sunlight on your lips and clouds in your chest turned to scrap and stone and recitation. You will have a hard time believing that that crash of beauty could turn to creed?it feels so cold. You?ll begin to doubt those lips.

I don?t dare tell you that I completely understand, that I know just what you feel?you don?t need more words right now. What I will do is ask you to drop the letters, scraps, and photos?all those artifacts?so that your hand is empty again; place your palm over your ribs, both to block the critics? cries and to move your thoughts away from your mouth?your heart, now, is ready for its kiss.

That is where my wisdom ends. I?m still trying to figure this stuff out, too. It?s more than two decades since I left home, got tagged as a grown-up, and I?m groping for answers alongside you. No one ever explained these things to me, either.

When I was a child, my dad would give me a lecture when I?d done something wrong. Regardless of my trespass, the lecture would always end with his asking whether I wanted to be a ?special person or like everybody else,? and I would respond, ?I want to be a special person.? It?s possible that he?d imparted wisdom before that point, had given me words I would need later, need now, but I could never get past that last exchange. Could never get past the thought that I had to earn my way to his love, had to do something special before I could be something special. Sometimes I wish he?d have written me a letter, given me some paper to hold onto, to carry with me. Instead of telling me, after my first girlfriend broke up with me, that everything would be okay, I wish he?d have made me a letter. I wish he?d have taken a pencil from his desk, grabbed a scrap of paper, and written,

Dear son,

It hurts. Hurts so pointedly it?s as if all the sadness and loneliness and pain in the universe has gathered on the head of a nail with your name on it. No one knows what it feels like, this unrequiting, this face turned away from you, this emotional suicide wherein you continue to love, set your eyes to the face of one who can?t love you back, at least not at this moment?no, especially not at this moment. It feels as if all goodness, all joy, all hope has been closed to you, as if God has placed his hand over the sun.

It hurts. Now is the wilderness, now the temptation to pick up every rock looking for some missing piece, some glyph some map some staff to do some magic with, to make a shortcut with, to carve out for yourself an easier path. God is hard. There is a path to glory, but it is long and strewn with blood. You are beginning now to understand this.

It hurts. You want it to be over but you can?t fathom anything else, this thunder in your chest, this compulsion to keep loving with no apparent reward. I?d say you must endure this on your own, but you?re my son, and I?d shed my blood for you?the least I can do is give you these words. I know they don?t feel like enough right now, but one day they will. I promise you that.

Your father

Don?t hear what I?m not saying. My father taught me many things?good, practical things: how to change the oil; mow the grass; use just enough milk; apologize. I?ve learned enough on my own by now that I can return the favor. There are things that I know now that he doesn?t. I could write him a letter:

Dear Dad,

This letter is probably late. Aren?t they usually? Why is that? I think maybe it?s for shame. It seems like we?re always deferring shame, as if it?s ours to deal with. And I?m talking about a mutual shame here. My shame for being so ungrateful, for my vanity, which, for some reason, would never allow me to tell you that I love you, that I owe you, that I learned so much, know so much, because of you. Ridiculous. And your shame, the shame you might feel if I confess to you my shortcomings, my failures, my doubts and struggles and fears. I?m afraid you might blame yourself for those things, unnecessarily add to the shame you already feel for your shortcomings as a father.

I don?t know as much as you about being a father, but I do know something about shame, something that you should know. It is this: Do not equate shame with responsibility; if you feel ashamed, whatever you feel ashamed of is not necessarily your fault; it?s just the way things are in a world where birds are born with broken wings and the sun doesn?t warm our bones on some days. This is an ontological problem. Let me put it this way: You did not teach me to be self-serving, to be lustful, to be proud, to think that I could take care of everything myself?I was born that way; these failures are my own; do not feel ashamed; it?s not your fault.

And this: I tell you these things only because I want to be honest, because I want you to know who I am, what I think, why I behave the way I do. I know you?ll be tempted to read my admissions of failure as accusation, but they are not. This is my way of saying that I love you. I want to be able to tell you anything, and I want you to be able to hear everything. And that will only happen, I believe, when we realize that a lot of this is just not our fault. God knows it?s not our fault. And maybe if you stop beating yourself up and I stop beating myself up, our arms will be freed up maybe to shake hands, or to hold each other for a while, even this late in our lives.

And this: I am not like everyone else; I am a special person, but not because of the way I?ve behaved. Rather, I?m special because I?ve been loved by my father. Because he has said, ?First, you are my son, and I love you,? and there?s nothing behind that but more love. That is the most important thing, whether or not you realized it, that you taught me. And in doing so, you have loved me.

Your son

Hold on to this.

God is not ashamed of you. You are special, because you are his son, and because you are my son. You are loved.

Carry this with you?you will need reminding.

Your Father

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