Sunday, October 18, 2020

Where my father's footsteps end

In my dotage, I’ve become a bit of a numbers guy. How many bottles of wine in my cellar? What time remains of summer? Days left until the election? And so, I looked back to see my father’s life, and the days he had on earth. And a couple of days ago, the days in my life surpassed his.

Now, I’m in now way claiming victory. It was a relief of sorts. Just like when I turned 34, and chanced upon living longer than Jesus. No, I’m not comparing quality or sizing myself up against a messiah. I am just noting, in the course of my life, those moments when it seems to be a milestone. And when I became older than my dad would ever be, it stirred the compost.

I think about my dad from time to time, examining his life, wondering how he felt about it. I know there were times when he was on top of the world, and moments when he was at a disadvantage with the odds that were set before him. He managed to make it to the finish line with grace and courage. He finished well. Just too soon.

These were some of the thoughts perambulating around my head when, the other night, on the eve of the moment when my dad’s days had all passed, I was sitting outside on a patio, sipping older French and Italian wine, and feeling healthy. And grateful. Not just for the time. But for the circumstances which brought me this far.

25,294 days, at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t seem all that long. And in geologic time it’s not even the flutter of a butterfly’s wing, the beat of a heart, the snap of a finger. On this planet, where dinosaurs have actually had more time on it than we bipeds, for some of us it can seem an interminable life sentence. For others, it is never enough. I often wonder how my dad thought about his time on earth.

And for us temporary survivors, how thinking about matters like these inform one, so that, just maybe, one’s life can sprout a little more meaning with the time that is left.

Yeah, I know, I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole.

In my daily walk there is a stand of old bois d'arc trees, some of them well over 100 years old. Right now, they’re dropping their fruit, gnarly green orbs, which in these parts we call horse apples. They’re ancient looking spheres, hard and round and stippled. The squirrels get into them and rip them apart, love them and pursue their sweet meet (to them). If you park your car underneath a fruit laden bois d'arc, it can do some damage.

But when I walk by them, I sense this place I call home to be something that was long before me and, hopefully, will be long after I’m gone. It’s a timeless feeling, as though the earth will, and can, keep on twirling, when we’re stardust. The dinosaurs came and spent many more millions of years here than we humans have. And the trees, well, they’re still here. And that comforts me.

Why? I think it’s because even though each and every one of us thinks our life is the most important thing in the universe, and which many of us perceive ourselves to be the center of said universe, it just ain’t so. It’s a blip, a spin, a twirl, a handful of heartbeats. And that’s pretty much all she wrote. But, being a numbers guy, and digging into the modest allocation of time we’re all given, whether it be 10 years or 100, I’ve secured a post on a beachhead. I do not sense a formidable adversary on this beach. I sense a tsunami, perhaps, but it is still far out at sea. So, I think I still have time. But who knows in today’s world?

What I do grasp, is that I probably have a little more time than my dad. But what can I do, in these seconds, to take that horse apple and plant the seeds and grow my very own bois d'arc? And how can I do that, when I’m sitting here in front of a screen, plunking out my 800 words every Sunday?

I don’t have an answer. I feel a sense of urgency, especially now that I have outrun those 25,294 days behind me.

My dad, I wish we had more time with him than his allocated 25,294 days.

I reckon I’ll keep working on my stuff, pretending it means something to someone in the future, and plug away. I realize there really is no such thing as legacy. Out of sight, you know the rest. And that isn’t meant to be cynical or in any way surrendering to one’s fate. Although, who among us is ever going to win the war?

In my current state of reality, though, I’ve declared peace with wherever I am in time and space. I learned some lessons about life from my dad, headed some of the warmings he posed, made plenty of mistakes on my own, and am grateful to have my mother’s resilience genes. I’m good. I also had a grandfather, who lived about 35,000 days. So, there it is, I have a new number. And a goal.

And then again, if we’re just a random iteration of miniscule paramecium clinging to the horse apple as it falls in space from its ancient arboreal progenitor, well, then that’s another story, isn’t it? Either way, let’s enjoy the ride.       

written and photographed (except for the older, archived family photos) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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