When we talk to God, we’re praying. When God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic.
I got off of work earlier than usual yesterday so I could visit the local Goodwill for some rain gear for my father. I felt pretty proud of myself for finding a yellow rain slicker — the ones you see those guys on the Discovery Channel wearing on their crabbing adventures. I also picked up another t-shirt, hoping he would finally agree to change his clothes. I can’t even count the number of times I have tried to get him to accept clothing, and consider going to a shelter. Sometimes I walk away with a sense of defeat, other times I find myself feeling completely disconnected, and in this most recent encounter I walked away feeling a mix of both. I know that I care. I know that I love him, but sometimes I wonder if it will ever be enough to change his circumstances. I wonder if it will ever change him.
I had been driving around in circles looking for him, and finally pulled over to continue my search on foot. While walking around the block, I came across a mother and her sleeping daughter huddled against a storefront. The little girl was about 4 years-old, and her mother began to share parts of her life story with me. Within the next half an hour we had a conversation about her losing Section 8 housing, her husband accusing her of sleeping with his brother, and how they preferred to live on the streets because the shelters were dirty and unsafe. I encouraged her to seek shelter from the hurricane this weekend. She had agreed that it was worth looking into, at least for this weekend. As I got up to leave, she had noticed the jacket in my Goodwill bag and asked why I was carrying it around. I shared that I was on the street looking for my father. I mentioned that he barely had any clothes, and I was concerned about the rain tearing up what little he had.
She seemed to know who I was describing because her immediate response was, “THAT’S your dad?”
Her eyes averted away from mine as I nodded and acknowledged that this man was my father. Yes, he is probably one of the “worst” out there… and yes, I am his daughter. I found it slightly ironic that this homeless woman was now feeling sorry for me. I guess it just shows you how much we all have in common, how interconnected we really are.
I continued to search for him by foot for another half an hour, and it seemed like I wasn’t going to find him. Sometimes that’s how it works. I learned quickly that I couldn’t keep my hopes up or have any expectations because those were the days when my heart would sit heaviest. Somehow, I have managed to train myself to love him from a distance and protect my heart from the disappointment of having to walk away without any “results” or “change.”
As I got back into the car and started to drive away, I threw a little prayer out into the world that if I’m not meant to see him today, that he will be safe from the hurricane. Within 30 seconds of driving on the main road, I saw my father’s figure from a distance. As I drove closer I noticed that he was arguing with someone… someone I couldn’t see, but someone who appeared to be very real in his world. He was waving his arm around, pointing at the space in the front of him with the same demeanor I witnessed as a child.
He was angry. He was having an argument.
I pulled over into the nearest parking lot, and sat in the car to gather my thoughts and feelings. I usually don’t feel so apprehensive about approaching my father, but this time I felt uncomfortable because he appeared to be fighting someone. Would he snap out of it? Would he attack me? I just wasn’t sure. I sat in the car for a few more minutes and decided I needed to get him this jacket.
I slowly walked over to him and he seemed to recognize me. This was a good sign. I smiled at him, and asked how he was doing. He didn’t respond, but I could see he was processing the sight of me again. I extended the jacket to him and tried to explain that we were expecting a big storm, and that he may need the jacket. He said he didn’t want it, and that it was “bad.” I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t bad, and that it was a form of my love for him… that it was from my heart, so it’s not bad. He shook his head and said he didn’t want it, and that I should keep it. I felt desperate for him to understand me… to accept this shred of protection. He refused just as he always does, and slowly rolled back into his world of argument. I could see that I was losing him again. Second by second, his head began the rotation of small circles. Little circles that coaxed him into a different reality, a different world…
This is my memory of yesterday. I had to drive away feeling defeated and disconnected again. I’m grateful that this hurricane missed our islands. Until another day… this is what I have to share.