Thursday, June 23, 2011

Looking At My Father's Face

When I was quite young and we were living in Coonoor we would have "camping" nights where we would lay down straw mats on the floor of the covered outside entrance to our house where our car normally slept (the last one I remember was a blue '57 Vanguard with the license plate TNN 1070). Then we would drag the mattresses off our beds and place them on top of the mats. After dinner and baths we would wear our warmest pyjamas and play outside until it was time for hot chocolate and stories and devotions, all under the car port, and then get tucked into bed by Mum and Dad.

And then the ghost song, sung by Dad in mournful tones: "Woman in the graveyard sat, she was very very fat, woo'ooo-OOO'OOO-OOO'OOO-OOO'OOO-OOO ..."

He sang that song every time we slept "outside"; every time it sent shivers up and down my spine when he sang it to us as we were getting ready to fall asleep.

Then Mum and Dad would go inside and Liza and Grace, the two ladies who helped us in our home and were part of our family by then, would go home, tut-tutting at the dangers of exposing "their" children to the hideous elements of night air and the muted relentless beat of the "devil's drums" from the village a few kilometres away.

And we were left alone to fend for ourselves (our parents perhaps six feet away on the other side of the living room wall, but still!), mattress buttressed up against mattress, wondering if we would make it through the night. Allan would say things like, "I think the drums are getting closer ..." and we would try to decide if it was wiser to keep a lookout or if we would be safer to dive under the blankets and keep our heads covered.

But then as we settled in for the night, I would peek out of the corner of my eye and see the stars twinkling above the shadowy mountain called Tenneriffe that loomed protectively over us all the days we lived at Range View.

There were so many stars that I couldn't believe it. I would try to look at them face-on, and they would just disappear before my very eyes. Of course, I could see the obvious Big and Little Dippers, Orion's Belt and always the North Star. But the tiny stars had vanished.

So I would peek again, straining to expand my peripheral vision, and there they were again. 

Another time I saw the stars was late one night with my friend Gary. The Northern Lights were flashing their S.O.S. in the sky and so we jumped into my car and hurtled out of the city to get a better view. We ended up at Seebe, just across the rickety 3/4-lane wooden bridge where we scrambled out of the car and propped ourselves against it, watching speechlessly as those lights danced themselves into a frenzy of colour and motion, reaching higher and higher until they tipped over the arc of the sky. Driving home in that now-darkened night we were both pretty quiet, digesting the wonder of what we had seen. And as I looked sideways out of the window, the drama of the flamboyant Aurora Borealis had been replaced with the secret stars, as I had started to call them to myself. Again I would swing my head quickly to face the window, to catch the stars, and they would disappear.

I have slowly come to realize that they are always there; I am just unable to see them until I relinquish control of how I think I should see them.

And I have come to realize that if I could look full into the beauty of the night sky in its entirety, the magnitude of the beauty would be too much for me to bear.

In a way, this reminds me of my Dad's face. When I was little, I would like to see his face in profile because his nose looked like an L to me, which of course in my little mind stood for the Lord Jesus. I used to think that probably Jesus looked like Dad. There were times when my Dad's face would be literally shining and I could only bear to look at him from the side, because to see such radiance was almost painful for me. If I was in the presence of such joy in my life, what would its absence do to me? I was afraid I would crumple like a can that's been heated, capped and allowed to cool ...

My Dad's face makes me think of the story of Moses in the Old Testament. Moses had a protracted encounter with God; he spent forty DAYS with Him and when Moses returned back down to the people of Israel, he had no idea how his face was shining - it was so intensely beautiful that the people couldn't bear it, and he had to wear a veil over his face.

As I was growing up and looked at stars out of my peripheral vision and looked at Dad in profile, I used to wonder if I was too imaginative, if I was finding too much mystery in what might really be rather mundane.

Until there was Elliot. One day we were at the zoo; Elliot was a toddler and it was a sunny, brisk afternoon. We came upon a short picket fence that was casting a bit of a shadow ... and that child walked the length of that fence several times, intently observing the play of light against shade - out of the corner of his eye. 

I can't help but think of of these words in Corinthians: "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known."

Maybe there are a lot of us out there for whom the whole is too much to take for now. But even though I can't bear the entire weight of this elusive beauty at present, I derive strange comfort in the fact that I myself "am known" - present tense - by the One Who designed all the light, all the glorious light that bounces, prism-like, through the corners of my eyes. And I am promised that one day I'll be able to bask in the full light of what I can only glimpse now.

As Elliot has grown to teenagehood there have been a number of occasions where I have been privileged to see him studying an entire situation; and then, in his careful, thoughtful way, breaking down the whole into peripheral-sized bits, examining each fragment for nuances of meaning until he has a thorough understanding of its significance.

Sometimes I feel that way about Elliot, feel that I don't dare plumb the depths of this wise soul who can speak with such discernment and compassion, who can look at a situation completely unselfconsciously, completely nonjudgmentally, completely for what it is.

When Elliot is through, he pieces all the pieces back together and the whole is shown to be far greater than the sum of its parts.

Just like all the stars in the firmament. Just like my Dad's face.

Good Friday morning

1 comment:

  1. I love you, Karyn, for seeing and knowing and observing from the corner of your eye what no-one knows you're noticing, and for putting it into words for us all. We are all enlightened and have glimpses of glory, the kind that our Dad and Elliot sit expectantly in most of the time. Happy, shining weekend to you!


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