Yesterday was Father's Day. I remember the first one I spent without you. I was on tour with my wife and White Collar Sideshow, and we spent the night at a truck stop. I want to say it was somewhere in Illinois, because I seem to remember ordering massive amount of deep dish pizza from a town outside of Chicago, but I don't know. I might be getting it confused. (We slept at a lot of truck stops). I think I really liked Old Crow back then – that bottom shelf whiskey you could get for ten bucks (artist budget) – so I was drinking that while it rained outside the RV. You might've been worried about that, but I wasn't drowning in it. Just cause it's cheap didn't mean I couldn't sip it, and it's probably more disconcerting that I liked the stuff over above the fact that I was drinking it. I still don't hate it, though.
That day was harder than I thought it was going to be. I forgot, until just now, that I wrote you a letter then, too. That would've been five years ago. I've tried to put myself in Brandi's shoes, today. I can still see her standing above me in the truck lot, while I'm weeping on a parking bumper, wondering why she wasn't trying harder to be my comfort. That poor girl married into a mess after you left. It's not really fair, to expect so much of someone who's trying to process the whole thing, herself. Looking at her puddle of a husband all mixing his own tears into the rain and wondering how she ended up a thousand miles from home with this thing. Haha. It's making me laugh, now. She's been my miracle, though. You'd have loved her.
Over the years since you've been gone, I've really wrestled with writing things like this, and more and more as more time goes by. Where's it appropriate? When's it appropriate? How long is it appropriate for? I still don't have an answer. I've even created a name for my wonderings – I call them "the tensions of commodified tragedy." Did I turn your death into clickbait?
There are worlds of men who play on the emotional devastation that people are experiencing every day. Some do it better than others. This last week, 50 people were gunned down inside of a club in Orlando, and a man who I have trouble disassociating from monsters decided that'd be a good time for retweets and self-aggrandizement. And I thought, "God, is this what I do? Do I take the pain that others are experiencing and make it all about me?" Do I take my pain and repurpose it for selfish gain? Because there are 50 new families that hate this day today, and a million more who resonate with them, and the last thing that I want to do is play them. Or be perceived to be playing them.
But then, every night – literally almost every single night – someone comes up to me and says "thank you for being open about your family's pain," and then proceeds to tell me about theirs. How her mother's in a state of alcoholic comatose. How her parents are lost in the drugs and her father just overdosed and died on purpose. How his dad's bi-polarity led to the same fate you met. How he walked in on his brother's naked, asphyxiated body tied to the dresser that morning. How she's got a thousand scars on her harms and still wonders whether to cut a little bit deeper and "make them count for something." How she was raped and tied to a tree. How he's still trying to figure out how to forgive his dad for leaving them, but he wants to. How she lost her whole family in that car accident in a moment. How he lost his son. How she lost her best friend.
Dear Dad, you are not a pedestal or a project or anything less than a person just like the rest of these people who are groaning for home, but I think that you would have loved the way that no matter how deeply you thought yours was a story beyond redemption, Jesus is still doing something akin to weeping and laughing and giving you the finger like "nah, your brain's just too small" and breathing resurrection into people's lives through yours all at the same time. And I long for them – and me and my beautiful wife and your widowed one and her new husband and my sister and her husband and my best friends and the people at these shows and the lovers in that night club and even Donald even though I shook with the anger – to know the life that you are experiencing now.
What a magnificent wonder, and I've been wondering what it means to embody some of that kingdom here, now. I've been on the road for a couple of weeks now, alone. I know you wouldn't have liked that, but here I am, with a lot of time to think and pray and wrestle and snapchat. Haha. I've been thinking about your memorial, and how there were so many people in that room who would have never been together in one place without it. I talked about it there – how you might genuinely think that it was worth your death to give people the opportunity to reconcile with one another, and I begged them to take the opportunity to do so. Maybe I can keep begging people in these rooms. You were always such an advocate for unity, and I appreciate it more and more the more I see how fractured a people we are.
I know you understood the breaks. I know that one of the sharpest knives cut into you came from that church, and the wound festered all the way until the end. That's how the last couple of years have felt to me, and it's amazing how clearly you saw it coming. My fracture became an earthquake, and I think about the way that knives slip in and then you feel the pain grow. Yet another thing that I wonder about – how long a thing can take, and if time really heals wounds, or just dulls them. But I do see more clearly that the more accusatory my tone, the more those those accusations are ultimately aimed back at me.
As I sit here and try to figure out what to say, all I can think of is the word "mercy." That you were a man who understood the need for mercy. That you would long for me to be a man full of mercy. Even in your darkest moments you were able to perceive that mercy was the thing that we lacked. It's almost laughable, how poignant that statement was, like the eye of your storm spent on a glimpse of our future.
Perhaps your mercy grew out of your relationship to the need for it. Human heads are not the right ones to crush at the foot of the cross. When I drove through Missouri, I was thinking about how I used to brush aside the disillusionment the church has caused so many people for the duty they had to participate in it. I had a conversation with a girl who couldn't get past it and thought that it is amazing how many people the Bible Belt has broken. The past couple of years have helped me understand, empathize, groan, weep better than I have in the past. They've helped me better understand you, too. The way ignorance projects itself like a blinding revelation and humbles a man to mercy out of necessity as much as choice. And maybe that's the rock-bottom where it's meant to be fully realized, anyway. Where Jesus is the embodiment of mercy and I remember that not only is it okay to receive it, but it's okay to extend it, as well. The bitterness doesn't fit in my hand anyway, and both of his hands have both of us.
I'm not done processing it. This project is as much a process as a proclamation, and hopefully it can be both, somehow.
I am so thankful for you. I hope that your life will live on through whatever the Lord allows me and Bree and mom and all of these people we've been able to participate in this place with end up doing with the rest of ours.
The stories were no different tonight after the show when I had the chance to cuss and pray and embrace a friend who's Father's Day is as broken as a thing could be, and he's still holding onto hope. And we had the chance to show one another mercy.
Thank you for that.
I love you. I can't wait to see you again.
P.S. - This post was first sent to my weekly email subscribers. They don't always make it to the blog, but this one seemed appropriate. If you want to join my private Sunday night musings, sign up for it here: levithepoet.net/signup