Three weeks after my dad died, I booked an appointment with my Shaman. I knew enough about grief to doubt the “okayness” I felt around his sudden death. Even though the shock and adrenaline kept me going, underneath, I needed healing.
I told her if she felt my father near, or got any messages, to let me know.
When the session was over, she told me he would send me a bluebird as a sign. That seemed super weird because bluebirds meant nothing to me, and I don’t think I ever heard him mention them at all.
As I walked out to the car, I saw a taxi parked next to me, which was also weird because I rarely see taxi’s in the part of Connecticut we live. As I got closer though, I smiled because splashed across the entire side of the car was its logo, a bluebird.
There is a bluebird hanging out in my back yard now. He’s been here for two weeks. I see the wisdom in my dad’s choice of a sign now. I never see bluebirds normally, so when they show up, I know he’s here.
The ache I feel in the center of my chest from his absence is bigger than its been in the 15 months he’s been gone. His birthday is in a few days. Father’s Day is coming. But more than that, I need his steadying force right now.
In the midst of so much turmoil, he’d be able to ground me. He’d bring context to what is happening with the issues of race and racism that would help.
It’s not that we’d agree, necessarily. But we’d talk.
At first, my father would have a hard time understanding the term “systemic racism.” He was smart, so it’s not that he couldn’t understand intellectually what systemic racism is. It’s that as an old white conservative man, he’d have to move some things around in his head to make space for understanding.
My father, more than anyone, gave me hope in humanity precisely because he saw the world so differently. And because he always managed to make that space for understanding.
When I was young, I thought the same way he did, so as my views progressed and his didn’t, we engaged in heated dialogue on a regular basis. But it always involved him listening to me. And it ended with him hugging me when it was time to say goodbye. We always ended with love.
Helping him see another side of a subject was my favorite, most exasperating puzzle. Changing his mind, even a little bit, was thrilling. The access point to make that happen was always love.
Public education, healthcare, religion, we discussed it all. Most of the time, he held firm in his beliefs, but when there was movement, it was always because I pulled him out of his head and into his heart.
Other times he’d help me understand something beyond what the “liberal lens” presented. He helped me make sense of viewpoints that felt inherently wrong and sometimes evil.
I don’t have to guess where he’d come out on the issue of George Floyd’s death. Despite being an ardent supporter of law enforcement, he’d know this was murder. What he’d think needs to happen next, I’m not sure. I can’t know that because he’s gone.
My bluebird has been flying around the backyard all morning. His appearance is what made me go grab my computer and start typing what I was feeling.
As I wrote that last paragraph, the bluebird came and sat on the fence 5 feet from me – the closest he’s ever been.
He looked right at me, so I asked…
What would you be doing right now in all this, dad? What would you say to me?
“I’m listening.’ That is what I would say to you.”
That is the gift he gave me -that is where my faith in humanity comes from. When I was young, my dad and I would sit across from each other, red-faced, debating every issue you could imagine. My mom would leave the table in tears, stressed out from the conflict.
But I just realized something. My dad always listened.
As I grew older and life became more complicated, I stopped trying to “win” our debates. I wanted to understand him more than I wanted to beat him.
And the more I understood him, the more I could respond in a way where he could understand me.
I think that is the way forward for all of us. “Us” being humanity. To focus less on winning and more on understanding. Talking with each other and not at each other.
In the early eighties, my dad heard a Catholic priest speak about the struggles on a Navajo reservation that were the result of the land and wellbeing that was stripped away by white people. After learning about this, my dad wrote a check to support the building of a school for the children of that community. He wrote a check every month to that same non-profit for the rest of his life.
He did it without words.
He was an old white conservative that listened, and because someone took the time to help him understand, he took action. It is unlikely you would have known he wrote that check each month, but he did. I didn’t even know about it until I questioned him on why he seemed to always get Navajo art in the mail.
Many us of aren’t sure exactly how to step in and offer support or help right now, so I will offer you this.. as we are all leaning into uncomfortable, but necessary conversations, consider listening instead of solving. Open up and hear someone’s differing opinion or experience. You don’t have to agree with it but listen to what their viewpoint is. Come from a place of love. Not everything has to be “solved,” but everyone wants to feel important and understood.
And let me start by saying I’m listening. If there is something you want to share, reach out. I’m listening.