Amongst the the obvious things that make this date so significant for almost everyone lies a personal significance for me: It would be my father’s 79th birthday.
He has been on my mind a lot lately in at least two ways. First in the way you might expect. I simply recall and miss him as a person, as the most significant male role-model in my life. As a hero, a foil, a friend – my ancestor. I see him in the grooves in my thumbnail. I hear him in the clearing of my throat and the increasing groans and grunts I seem to make as I try to move throughout my day. Several times, I’ve caught his eyes in the rear view mirror and it’s startled me. Each time, I’ve gone to the trouble to greet him out loud, “Oh! Hi, Dad.” I see him in the gait of his granddaughters and hear him in their thoughts.
The second way is not as personal, but perhaps more significant. My father is an emblem of the familiar. (Coincidentally, “Familiar” shares the same Latin root as “Family”; that with which one is familiar is like a member of the family.)
I noticed it when I was standing in the kitchen superintending some process or other on the stove, and I heard the front door to my house open and close. I became suddenly aware that this particular complex of sounds is one-of-a-kind. No other door makes precisely that melody and rhythm. It’s like a fingerprint or a snowflake and I am intimately familiar with it. It is a happy sound. Anticipation is connected with it – someone I love has just arrived. (I have also heard my door played in a minor key as it has been slammed upon someone’s angry exit, but it was none the less familiar.)
Whether angry or happy in it’s origins, the sensation of encountering the familiar is the same. There is an embrace in it. A well worn comfort and kind of surety. The arrival of Christmas (right on time again this year!) the winter rains, the rise and fall of a certain celebrity, a fashion trend, this or that political outrage, the breakdown of cars, leaky roofs, illness, injury, recovery and death, rebels force the new bureaucracy onto the establishment, change the letter head, run up a new flag and hunker down until the next generation of rebels arrives.
There is something intrinsically valuable (well, maybe just pleasant) in the familiar – even the painfully familiar. My father died of lung cancer – but the smell of second hand smoke (blended with sawdust and other mysterious things) is the primary ingredient of my sensory recollections of my father. I find everything surrounding the practice of cigarette smoking ridiculous and repellent: but because it possess the quality of the “familiar” it seems I must submit and allow it at least some access to my heart.
So – today, on Tom’s birthday, on Christmas Eve, in the darkest days of the year as we look forward to 2016, consider tipping your hat to all that is familiar. Br grateful for the dripping faucet, rattling dishwasher door and that squeak in the hallway floor. Enjoy the sensation of knowing that your coat will make the same whispering noise as you draw it from the closet, that the things in your junk drawer or your tool box (that you can’t remember why you have or even what they are for) will prevent you from reaching what you really want…somewhere in the back. The smell of the burners on your stove, the weight of the shower door in your hand, the texture of your keys…
…let all that is familiar – all that constitutes your family of experience – guide your hearts and minds to gratitude and hope, for even the familiar things pass and become only memories of the familiar.