It was on a warm, humid, rainy day, under the covered patio of my dad’s South Florida home that I was told about how grandfather passed. He died of prostate cancer. My father, as I write, is battling the disease, while I have yet to succumb to my fate.
My old man had recently been diagnosed with the C demon, and was in the midst of deciding between two treatments for the disease, chemotherapy or surgery.
We were seated out back watching the rain fall on the Plantain and Lychee Trees. My dad is an avid horticulturalist, a hobby that has always kept him firmly planted. His back yard looks like the tropical gardens you see in those movies that depict a Caribbean getaway. The setting has always lent itself to family conversations that are sometimes passionate, but more often nostalgic. In this particular instance it was just he and I, and the topic invariably turned towards his reminiscences of family, and the hard life he had led back in Colombia.
I sit here and over analyze, as I often do with most things, thinking that the reason dad related the details of grandfather’s death was to give me a better idea about who he was and how he got to where he is now; contemplations of impending mortality. He and I had never gotten along at all. He was a conservative, strict disciplinarian, a fact that left enough of an indelible mark on me to hide my eye roll as he began.
I recall how my father’s face became distant, as he stared out into the raindrops and began to tell the story, with the matter-of-fact tone he always uses when trying to council me. His dad had passed away at home. The family had barely enough money to feed themselves much less give the man medical care. Grandfather had never been home much. He was a black-marketer, spending most of his time on the water between the mainland and San Andres Island, where the contraband products he dealt in arrived from the U.S., cigarettes and whiskey mostly. He did know where to lay his bones at the end though. My dad recounted the frantic cries of his mother, and seeing his old man staring blankly. He told about how he had to wrap his father in the sheets soiled and damp from days of pain, explaining stoically how he had to build the coffin himself – due to grandmother’s insistence on some basic level of dignity for the old fellow – from discarded wood he was able to collect from the surrounding village, quickly so as to prevent further decay in the hot, humid climate. He gave the small amount of money he had left in his pockets to a neighbor who let him use a donkey and cart, and he rode his father to the nearby pauper’s cemetery and buried him, without a funeral, without any fan-fare. My father was nineteen at the time.
After the story we stared out blankly, watching the rivulets of water scurry down the Plantain leaves.
As I grow older, the opportunities to have my eyes opened so as to receive true epiphanies are becoming rare. Real epiphanies are few enough, but one would think that with age they’d be more common what with the wealth of experience we accumulate and the corresponding wisdom. I suppose then, that in becoming wiser, we learn to recognize the difference between true moments of enlightenment and lesser moments of naïve realization.
I have taken a rather long pause in order to think about how to describe the way I felt after hearing dad’s tale. The best I can come up with is this. When I was in College, I remember spending a particular weekend day on Miami Beach. I had a pair of sunglasses on that I eventually forgot about. As late afternoon approached, I sat where the beach waves just pull back, taking little bits of sand with them, and stared out at the horizon. My nose was itching and I raised my hand to scratch, when I felt the sunglasses. I pulled them off and the view before me exploded with new detail and brightness. I recall saying to myself, My God, that is amazing.
Dad’s story was a moment of enlightenment for me, that cliché of walking in another’s shoes. With a true epiphany comes a new way of looking at life. For so many years I had labored under the impression that many of my woes could be comfortably filed in a corner of my mind, categorized under the “blame it on my father” archive.
Do not judge others for the way they are, and if you do, do it carefully. Your troubles are mostly your own doing, as are your moments of bliss. Forgive others, and most of all forgive yourself. If you don’t consider this an epiphany, consider it a naïve realization. But please, consider it.