Are we forever unblessed? We who miss the blessing?
I think not.
Those of us who don’t get to hear the last words. Who don’t get the spoken blessing from the source. We get the blessing(s) of the search. We get the blessing(s) given off by hints, the blessing(s) reflected in other people. We get the blessing(s) of assembling. We get the communal blessing(s). Though the last words may or may not be spoken to us directly, though the last words may or may not be recorded — we are all continually observing each other, marking each other well. And our records and observations make it back to those who need to hear. Eventually.
Those of us who missed the official blessing. The official deathbed. We don’t know when these observations and hints will show up or where they’ll come from. We get the blessing(s) of surprise.
Shortly before 9/11, I was captivated by this story — about a police officer who bought a kid a meal just before he was gunned down in a senseless act of violence. His family didn’t get a deathbed. His family didn’t hear his last words. He never told them that everything would be okay. And yet. They know it. Their blessing came in the form of security footage from McDonald’s. Which is as good a place as any. And I’m glad this hint made its way to them.
In the days and weeks and months and years after my dad died…hints worked their way to me, too. Whether I was looking for them or not.
A few days after my dad died, when we had gotten the 4Runner back from the Atlanta airport and were cleaning it out, we discovered a triangular chip of waffle cone, edged with chocolate jimmies. I held it in my hand. I thought:
The day before my dad died, he ate an ice cream cone with chocolate jimmies. This is a part of my dad’s legacy. This is something he left behind, and I can hold it in my hand. This is a hint.
A few days later, at his funeral, while I was giving his eulogy and looking at no one while I spoke and seeing no one. Suddenly everyone came into focus and everyone was so young. And I thought:
Why is everyone at this funeral so young? This is a part of my dad’s legacy. Here are the people he left behind. This is another hint.
In the weeks that followed, my Uncle David told us that on Saturday night, after the light parade and after making sure the kids were secure in their rooms with everything they needed, my dad got in his bed and opened up maps of Disney and pulled his multi-colored pens and highlighters out of his briefcase and started sketching out a plan for the next day. That when he fell asleep, my dad was still making notes and figuring out how to squeeze the most out of their trip. That when he woke up the next morning, the notes and the maps and the plans were still there, but my dad was gone. And I thought:
My dad died at Disney World, planning his next day. Figuring out how to get the most out of his next day. This is part of my dad’s legacy. These are the plans he left behind. This is another hint.
Sometime after that, when I was helping my mom sort through my dad’s work email, responding to his clients and telling them all the news, I came across this email from my brother, Daniel. Written the night my dad died:
From: Dan Reach
Date: Sun, Nov 11, 2007 at 2:36 AM
Subject: First stab at Reg D
To: “Russell P. Reach”
I just looked around and there’s tons of sweet information about PPM filing. Here are a few links that I thought looked useful:
The last one there you might not need to go to because it seems to be written to a beginner like me. It does, however, contain a lot of information on the subject and is formatted well (easy to read).
I’ve also attached a few files that might be useful to look at. I included all the Reg D rules (501-508) except for 504 and 505 because they both deal with raising funds under 5 million dollars. I know you’re at DWorld right now, but I was just thinking about these things and wanted to dump them on you. We’ll have to meet up later and discuss what I should do next!
And I thought:
The night my dad died — maybe even the very hour or the very moment — he had a son who was excited to be on his team. In spite of everything. He had a son who was so excited to be on his team that he couldn’t sleep. This is beautiful. This is something my dad left behind. This is another hint.
Several months after my dad died, I found an envelope addressed to Miami University that my mom had stuck in my bag, assuming it was mine. I didn’t recognize it and opened it. It was my dad’s response to a survey about Miami’s Bicentennial, dated November 9, 2007. Being slightly more technologically savvy, I had returned my survey online. My dad and I had chosen the same design for the cover of the Bicentennial Alumni Directory. The survey said: “Briefly describe your life since Miami.” And my dad had written: “I married my college sweetheart, graduated from Harvard Law School, had six children and a wonderful life.” And I thought:
When you say something that’s accidentally sexual, it’s called a Freudian slip. What is it called when you say something accidentally morbid…accidentally prophetic? Two days before my dad died, he told his Alma Mater that he’d had a wonderful life. This is something he left behind. This is another hint.
Six months after my dad died, a 3-year-old boy who used to come over a lot dropped his Bob the Builder toy and looked at Abbey and said: “Where is Papa Reach anyway? I feel like I haven’t seen him in forever.” And Abbey said: “Me too.” And the boy said: “Well. Where is he?!” And Abbey coughed and looked around for help and I was reading in the comfy chair and drinking coffee and I shrugged and Abbey coughed again and cleared her throat and said: “Papa Reach went to heaven.” But the boy saw through it and started wailing and said: “Why didn’t anyone tell me he died?” And he cried for 30 minutes and I thought:
Even from his couch and even in the midst of his sickness, my dad made time to connect with 3-year-olds. My dad invented the spider game. A game he could play lying down. This is part of my dad’s legacy. This is another hint.
Several years after my dad died, my mom’s water filter sprung a leak. We asked a friend to come fix it, and he found a Ziploc bag containing a new filter and a specially-sized wrench taped to the wall of the cabinet under the sink and marked “Water Filter” in black sharpie. A little bit later, the water line to the fridge sprung a leak. We asked a friend to come and fix it, and he found a Ziploc bag containing a new water line and other sundry parts taped to the back of the fridge and marked “Water Line” in black sharpie. A few weeks later, we decided it was time to replace my mom’s cooktop, only the perfect cooktop we’d found on Craigslist had a slightly smaller hook-up than the one we were replacing. We were about to go to the hardware store when Phil found a Ziploc bag containing an adapter that would fit the new cooktop to the existing gas line and other sundry parts taped under the old cooktop and marked “Cooktop / Gas Line” in black sharpie. And I thought:
Everything can break one time. My mom lives in a house rigged with fixes. These are the things my dad left behind. This is another hint.
You see? These are just some of the hints. These are just some of the sounds, the aftershocks, that a tree falling by itself in a borrowed bed might leave behind.
You see…we have the blessing(s) of surprise. And, for me, the biggest surprise of all was how ready he was. And how prepared he left us.