I have spent this weekend remembering and honoring great men– those I know and those that I don’t.
I was walking into my house on Friday night after a long day at the Alltel store when my cell phone rang. It was my husband calling to tell me that Tim Russert had died. The news made me so sad. I have had a long crush on the news men of NBC in general. It started in high school when I developed a wicked crush on Tom Brokaw. My economics teacher brought in a tape of the stocks portion of the nightly news every day. She always paused it while Tom was speaking, and he would be frozen in front of our classroom with his mouth frozen in an awkward place. The football player who sat behind me would say, “Do you still dig him?” at those moments. “It’s not just because he’s handsome,” I would reply, “It’s because of what he knows!” At the beginning of the Iraq war, when David Bloom, the Weekend Today Anchor, died of deep vein thrombosis while covering the war in Iraq as an embedded solider, I wept openly. I hated it for his family and hated it for the world of journalism and every one of us who trusted him to give us the news without filter. I felt the same way Friday night with this news about Russert.
On Saturday morning, I turned on my television just as Weekend Today started a tribute to Tim Russert. I poured my cereal, ready to take some of it in. And then I happened to glance at my e-mail. And the first sentence of the first email in my inbox undid me. My college roommate and one of my dearest friends wrote a late night email telling me and a handful of her other friends that her father had lost his valiant fight with cancer. What I see next in my mind’s eye is not from my own eyes. It is removed from me, I am the proverbial fly on the wall watching the girl in the grey t-shirt move. My Blackberry dropped from my hand, hitting the tile floor in the kitchen, skidding, but I didn’t realize that then. I turned from the kitchen, ran outside, gasped for air, my eyes darting everywhere and nowhere. BF rounded the corner of the house. “What’s wrong,” he asked, running towards me. I told him, but then I spun round and round on the porch. “I don’t know what to do.” It was too early to call my friend. I had gotten up early to run before the mercury crept too high. I walked round and round the house, waiting for the clock to creep up to a decent hour to call my girl. I cried. Later, I found the cereal floating in its bowl, the Blackberry across the floor.
Mostly, I spent yesterday thinking about her great, amazing father– a former lawyer turned farmer with a passion for education and civil rights who had gone from school board member to state senate chairmen of education. I had met him before ever meeting his daughter. And I had liked him so much, I knew that I would like his daughter when she later walked on to our freshmen hall and moved into the room next door. We would become fast friends and the farm that she grew up on would become a place where her parents always welcomed us– treating us as their children, feeding us bountifully, asking us about our lives and dreams, taking us out for 6 am horseback rides and mid-afternoon skeet shooting. Her dad knew that my dream was to be a teacher and he and I could talk education tirelessly– before I ever became a teacher and long after my secondary education teaching career was done. He was a liberal man with a mind that was expansive and a heart that was even bigger. And he asked the hard questions, did the hard things, led the right way, even when anything else would have been easier. The rest of the day, pain stung my nose and throat, tears rolled down my eyes without my realizing they were there. I booked my ticket to Mississippi, packed my bags, rented a car, downloaded directions. My parents called to say not to worry about driving to South Carolina to see them for Father’s Day because they wanted me to have more time before leaving for the farm, but that would be the antithesis, really, of what these moments remind you about life. So we enjoyed a great Saturday night dinner with my father-in-law for Father’s Day and then jumped into the car Sunday morning to drive to South Carolina to celebrate my dad with my family. My friend, her brother, and their families had spent the last seven weeks with her family in Mississippi, honoring her father’s life while it was still being lived. That’s an amazing thing, isn’t it? To have the chance to tell a person that has mattered so much to you absolutely everything you have loved about them over time and to be given the chance to just sit and hear their advice, reflection, and wisdom.
I am on the way to the most beautiful place in my world to be with some of the most loving and passionate people in my world in order to celebrate a great man who lived his life with conviction and passion, compassion and purpose, wisdom and a sense of justice. I am broken open by my ability to see my dear friend and to just hold her and listen. I am humbled already by the stories that I will hear, the love that will be shared, the sheer beauty and strength and wide open love that is this family. What do I cherish is the question that I posed on here this time last week. Tonight, that answer is both so long and so short. I cherish good fathers.