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rLiving Day 24: A Life (Relationships)

Posted by Simon on May 25, 2010

My dad, Peter George Fowler, died last November 8th, age 85. Three of my sisters were with him in the hospital room in Tewkesbury (England); two holding a hand each, another massaging his feet. I called from Boston and asked to speak to him, so my sister held the cell phone to his ear. He wasn’t able to speak by now, and I don’t know if he could hear me. But I could hear him breathing. For what seemed like the first time in my life, I said out straight, “I love you.” Then, “I’ll see you tomorrow” (having already booked a flight). I hung up, and was called back seconds later to be told he’d just passed away.

For the next hour I sat and cried, along with my sisters on the other end of the phone. But we were mostly silent. My mom arrived with another sister, and we all sat some more. Thankfully we all know how to break a sombre silence with a wise-crack, a bit of pragmatism (who should we call first?) or an exquisitely timed fart. Although I was 3,000 miles away I felt right there with them. It was the most deep, sad, but profoundly wonderful hour I can remember. The next two weeks of crying and remembering and crying just deepened that feeling.

My dad’s death brought me then, and ever since, to a depth of gratitude and love for him that is profound. I never experienced anything like it during his life. And I don’t say that with regret. Our relationship was what it was, and despite good will there was little ability on either of our parts to make it ‘better’. I wished and tried to be more grateful, more loving, when he was alive. And maybe I made progress. But now it’s a different thing altogether, though it’s a mystery why death would make it so. Now, looking back from this side, his whole life and our whole relationship with me and him and my mom and six sisters … no matter what it was actually like … now there’s just abundant gladness and gratitude and love.

It feels like redemption.

The really profound lesson of his death to me, however, was in the letters, cards and personal messages from friends, family and local villagers. They simply told of the significance my dad had in their lives; their appreciation for him, for his unique character, his presence, his generosity. Relationships, simple as that. People knowing and other people over the course of a life. No ‘money’, no ‘achievements’, no ‘oooh, look at the nice house he left behind’. Just people with people.

Truly, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions [or in the ecstasy of his personal experiences]” (Luke 12v15), but in the depth and love of his relationships.


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Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Posted by Simon on April 4, 2010

Wave-particle duality.
Perfect Love.
Pluto not being a planet.
Purpose beyond reproduction.
The Red Sox ending an 86-year World Series drought.

Today was a special day to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ – and therefore the possibility of my own resurrection – and realize that I still believed this particular impossible thing.

We’re not entirely rational creatures (see David Rock’s work on how our brains work).

The scientific method takes a leap of faith in its non-empirical reliance on reason. And it seems to benefit very much from doing so. Being finite beings we have to start somewhere ‘inside’, with certain assumptions for which we have no foundations. And reason is a good one that continues to work.

But it’s not all we need. Purpose and love seem to have a role in our creatureliness also. Though not irrational, they don’t seem entirely rational either.

Impossible is one of those words that we should have a little bit of reluctance to utter. It’s too often used to shut down the mind and imagination. It’s too often the result of an unquestioned paradigm that itself fails to adequately explain the way life actually is, or should be, or could be.

When a friend cries out, in the midst of grief, “Why?!”, don’t give them a ‘reason’. When a student or colleague cries out, “why not??”, don’t immediately give them a ‘reason’. Words and reason are not always up to the task of explaining purpose, or [im]possibility. And neither are they often adequate or sufficient for demonstrating love.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a seemingly impossible reality that yet exemplifies and creates in me reason, purpose and love. As difficult as that might be to swallow, before or after breakfast, He informs and empowers me about the way life actually is, could be and should be.

P.s. I tried to make this note include something about the First Follower project as part of my weekly obligation. In fact it has been present in my mind all the way through because David Sivers, Andrew Dubber and Andrew Wicklander are people who seem to you scream out, “don’t tell me this is impossible!” and they encourage others to go beyond the present limits of our imaginations. God has weaved possibility into the fabric of all his creatures.

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