I knelt on the floor at his feet. He sat in his arm chair, a red pack of Pall Malls and brown quart of beer nearby. We didn’t speak. I tugged away, loosening the leather strings of his heavy work boots, using a fork on the most stubborn knots. I pulled with all my might, freeing his feet to rest in their thick white socks. It’s one of few fond memories of time with my father.
My older siblings tell me Dad was exceptionally intelligent. An intuitive once told me he was horribly abused as a child. He never had the chance for an education beyond high school, suffered from addictions, struggled to support a family of 10.
One Christmas, six weeks after a lung cancer diagnosis, my father died at the age I am now. Dad would have turned 100 this week.
My father’s death left my mother widowed at the age of 59, just four years older than I would be when I was widowed. She would live to 85.
The last time I was with my mom was a snowy December day. She was in the hospital. Her heart was failing.
She was sitting up in a chair. I knelt on the floor at her feet. I never knew my mother’s legs to be anything other than thick and riddled with purple and blue bulging veins. Nine pregnancies and years of standing for long hours waiting tables took their toll even before her battered heart began to give out.
I carefully removed her stockings. I slowly massaged her swollen feet with lotion. As her heart was nearing its final beat, mine was full of gratitude for the moment.
Global teacher Thich Haht Nanh reminds us that our feet are made of the feet of our mother and our father. He encourages us to imagine their feet as we walk. He says that this way our parents are always with us.
My parents walked paths of hardship, heartbreak, and broken dreams. Because of who they were to me and for me, I walk a path of grace. My feet are firmly planted. My heart strong and open. My dreams coming true.
Happy 100th birthday, Dad.
Can you call forth compassion for the path of your parents?
What gifts did your parents’ lives leave you?
How do your parents travel with you on your journey today?