Today is my Dad's birthday. I've been thinking about him all week. The other night we talked for several hours on the phone. He was talking about poetry, religion, and his life. He quoted Harold Bloom, who wrote "Religion is the poetry, not the opiate of the masses." My Dad was talking about how he feels this way about religion, and his own life-- that he approaches it the same way that he approaches poetry. That at first there is this wall when he is trying to look at things in a literal way, and trying to understand his life, but that when he gives it time, and instead of trying to understand it, he begins to relax, that slowly he begins to understand and see things more clearly.
Though I can hardly recount exactly what my Dad was saying, or what he meant by it, it's given me something to think about since we talked. I think it's a beautiful way to look at religion and life-- like poetry. You can read a poem, and an apple within the poem can literally be an apple, but it can also be a million different things, depending on who is reading it, and where they are in that moment with the poem. There are layers and layers of meaning-- always changing and becoming more. One of the worst things you can do with a poem is to sit down with it, read it once, and ask "what does it mean?" You have to listen to its sounds, feel its rhythm, look at the images within it and the relationship between them, and then ask what it makes you feel, and what it means to you-- if it connects to other stories, images, or experiences in your life. If it is something that resonates within you, then you should read it again and again, until you begin to "understand" it.
I think too often we look at life-- religion, politics, our relationships, and ask "what does it mean?" We limit our focus to a hyper-literal one, and we loose a shared understanding of those sounds, rhythms, and images. We loose our ability to communicate with the deepest parts of ourselves, and with others as well.
I love that conversation with my Dad, and the direction it's given my thoughts this week.
I'm so lucky to have been born to parents who I love and respect. My Dad is one of the most interesting, wise, and loving people that I know. I can listen to him talk for hours about subjects that he's interested in and never get bored. I wish somehow I could bottle those conversations up, and replay them later on.
He not only talks about interesting things, but lives his life in an interesting way. I have never known my Dad when he wasn't really interested and involved in some pursuit of his. At the moment he spends his days reading and studying poetry, studying Spanish for hours a day (because he's always wanted to learn it and he and my Mom are on a service mission for the LDS church in a Spanish-speaking branch), takes sewing classes, and sews amazing things, works in his wood shop making beautiful furniture and boxes, plants and harvests a huge garden every year, and runs after his grandchildren in his spare time. His house is full of watercolor paintings that he's painted, as well as prints of some of his favorite artists.
My Dad's voice, and the way that he's lived his life has shaped my interests, my loves, and the way that I see the world. My love of nature was gained on the many backpacking trips we took through craggy Utah wilderness and desert. My love of music was learned in his arms while he sang to me. My love of words and stories was learned in the stories he told to us again and again.
Mostly though, he's taught me how to love and be loved. I wouldn't pick a different person to be my Dad if I had all the Dads in the world to choose from.
Love you Dad! Happy Birthday.
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