As a series of strokes robbed Michael Graff‘s dad of his mobility and his mental faculties, Graff looks at what it means to hope and what it means to love, finding them in things that are common and simple, in the clarity of a beautiful lyric, the call of a whip-poor-will, and a last loving embrace.
It’s easy to become bored with common things—a four-lane highway, or a daily schedule at the nursing home, or a type of bird or music. But maybe these days we make too much of what awes us or infuriates us, and too little of the regular life in the middle. What’s common only became common, after all, because it adapted and learned to fit in. A cliché was once original. Country music was once meaningful. Walking was once easy. A common robin once saved Jesus.
“Look,” he said. He pointed at a man standing near the door. “It’s Uncle George.”
Uncle George, who’d raised him, died in 1995, sitting alone in a chair on his back porch, his hand on the pistol he used to take the cancer pain away. Now Uncle George is the latest person to visit my father, a dying man who doesn’t believe in the afterlife. In the past two months, he’s told me he’s welcomed everyone from his mother to his deceased brothers to an ex-girlfriend named Kathy, whom he had to break up with in the 1960s because, as he put it, “You can’t treat a boat right and have a girlfriend, too.” I guess when you’re stuck in a wheelchair and can’t go where you want, people come see you, one way or another.
I put my hand on my dad’s arm and said, “Well, hell, it is Uncle George. What’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know,” my father said.
Kenny and I had gone to visit Dad around dinnertime. Dad ate most of his popcorn shrimp and tapioca pudding while news of flooding played on the television. Then he looked down and wiped his nose.
“I’m not getting up anymore,” he said, his eyes filled up with water. “I know that now.”
The moment of clarity startled us. He grabbed each of our hands and asked us to hug him goodbye. We pulled his head to our chests and asked if he wanted us to call the nurses to transfer him to bed.
“No,” he said, “I’d rather stay here and hang out with you guys.”