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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Stand Up

There was a time I thought respect was something that had to be earned and the only way I could earn it was by doing the "right" things. Back then I worked hard to earn respect which was, more often than not, not forthcoming. It has taken me a lifetime to finally get that we all deserve respect by virtue of just "being" human beings and just showing up in our lives regardless of what we do, think or say.

There is a favorite scene for me from the movie "To Kill a Mockingbird" where an old black man asks Scout to "stand up" with all the black people out of respect as her father leaves the court room. All the white people have already left the room and have no respect for a lawyer that would defend a black man. This scene always leaves me with s lump in my throat.

Now I know that respect is something we are privileged to feel not a commodity to be portioned out to or won from others on a whim. As such, we would be well advised to look for ways to feel respect for every human being that graces us with their presence in our lives as often as possible. And that includes respecting ourselves.

Stand Up - Originally written January 1990

When I was a young boy my mother read and told me many stories. In one of the stories she told, a man adopted a boy who had lost his family and raised him as his own. Throughout my life I have often thought about the story and wondered about its significance and impact on my own life. Now I find myself in a situation where I am raising a boy that has come to me in a similar way. I don't know why I never had children of my own. I don't understand why I attach the importance I do to the task I have drawn unto myself. I only know that I feel that I have drawn to myself an opportunity to create a loving relationship in the life of one small boy that was destined for all the hardships created by the lack of a father.

Maybe my mother's story instilled in me a certain reverence for the image of a man large enough to focus his intent on facing all the challenges of raising a boy whose father was gone. Right from the first time I had heard the story I was filled with a reverence for this man, a reverence that far exceeded that which I held even for my own father.

And now as a man myself, I realize that I, for whatever reason have created for myself the opportunity and indeed become that man in the story my mother told. I must now attribute to myself the reverence that I held as small child for the image of the man that I was to one day become. And from this reverence draw the strength and belief in myself to walk the path I have chosen. I must resist the temptation to cripple myself with the guilt of failures that are not mine and to tap into that reservoir of love that causes a man to reach out to a child.

I must remain steadfast on the course I have chosen, for who knows better my destiny, than my heart of hearts, whose wisdom far exceeds the capacity of my mind to find rhyme or reason in my life. I must not be too proud to ask the way as I travel my path and to open my heart to all inputs and not discount the wisdom to be derived from the smile of a child.

On a cold night in January I made my way to a gathering of men. I came, as instructed, with the intent of my mission scrawled in haste, in pencil on a small slip of paper. There on that paper were written the words "to discover the meaning of my situation". It could have said, "to discover the meaning of life" or ".... of my life", but no, my intent was much more humble. To write such a phrase obviously, I felt I had lost my way and could not understand how I had arrived at where I was, much less venture with any certainty another step.

As I drove, the all to familiar highway, my mind conjured up fears of being misunderstood and ridiculed as I imagined myself standing naked in a room of strange men with accusing fingers pointing at the privates of my heart and mind.

As the street lamps whizzed by me I felt the loneliness and despair as one guilty of all the transgressions leading to human failure. My 12-year-old stepson lay behind me home with two broken legs suffered in a collision with an automobile three weeks before. And here was I, driving out in the cold dark night in search of the answer of what it all meant, heavy with the guilt of not having been able to create the kind of family where such of a thing could not have happened. Where had I gone wrong? Why did I not have the connection with him my heart longed for? So many times I told myself "Accidents Happen", but that was not what was eating away at my insides. If only I had been able to have that connection he might have heard all the warnings to "slow down", to walk through life a little more gently to be just a little more careful and just maybe the event of that day, three weeks ago, might have passed our family by unrealized. Deep inside me the ugly truth was that knew I hadn't been able to do what I had intended to do, I felt I had failed. The message could not have been more clear. In my mind, “the accident” was his message to me. This was the source of my guilt and my shame.

I sat in the circle of men quietly as I listened to the other men proclaim their intent loudly, each carefully selecting words which conjured up images more lofty than those proclaimed before. I stared at my scrap of paper. Try as I might I could not make the words sufficiently lofty in my mind to utter them from my lips. I sat in dumb silence alone, afraid to speak.

Then from across the room there was a voice unlike the others. It was the voice of a boy but he spoke as a man, unafraid and without hesitation. Suddenly it was as if there were only he and I in the room although the room was filled with men talking in loud voices. Carefully I drew near to hear his story.

His story was the story of a boy who had had to face the world without a father. He spoke of the kind of wound that goes so deep that it seems it can never heal. When he was just a baby his father had left his family. Before me once again was the story that my mother had told. I listened quietly. My mind pictured images of the struggling that must have taken place in his family. It was then I knew why I had come. For despite all my failures there was success to which I had become blind in my desperate guilt at not having fully achieved the monumental task which I had set out for myself.

It was then that I knew where I was in my life and what I needed. My only failure had been the loss of belief in myself. I had lost sight of the value of myself. I had negated all I had accomplished. I had negated years of my continuous presence in the life of my stepson and his mother. I had come to doubt my consistent love for them even as I stared at an abundance of evidence for its presence. And in that moment I knew that I become indeed that man in the story so long ago my mother had told. In that instant I forgave myself all the mistakes I had made and I rejoiced in my triumphs, for I and I alone had had the courage to dare to face all the trials that had been placed before me in those years and I and my family had all survived.

But no, in that moment my life was not suddenly transformed into Nirvana. No, all my questions have not been answered. All my trials are not now complete. Yet I am filled with thanksgiving. I am thankful that my stepson is alive and that my wife is by my side. And that I have been given the courage and the wisdom to begin again from right from where I am, to live my life with all its joys and sorrows and trials and rough edges. I don't know what more any man can ask than this opportunity.

I want to thank Christopher for sharing his story. I want to thank the men's group for being there. I want to promise my self to remain ever mindful of the value of my life which was given to me on an "as is" basis to make of it all I can. I want to always remember that I am worthy of some measure of reverence for having the courage to create even the smallest amount of love with the life I have been given.

So, stand up, your [step]father is passing.


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