“It is commonplace that written into creation are ‘words’ from our Creator, but it bears recalling from time to time.” (Father at Night, a collection of essays by Michael D. O’Brien)
My father is a word that speaks to me. In him, I see what I am and what I ought to be.
He lies in bed at a long-term care residence. He is mostly paralyzed, but for his left hand. He can still speak, but with great effort, slowness, and repetition. He is hard of hearing. He has a pressure sore eating into his flesh. He has advanced multiple sclerosis.
He is six feet tall and was in the Air Force for 30 years before he had to retire. I remember that he would limp home from the bus stop after work, wearing his pristine, blue uniform and carrying his hard briefcase. I also remember how he would lean on my arm to walk to Communion at Mass on Sundays. Eventually, he took a wheelchair and the M.S. continued to advance. Almost two years ago, after living at home with my mom and receiving home care, he had to go into an institution, as my mom got a non-cancerous brain tumor that required surgery and a year’s recovery.
Last time I saw him, he asked how my husband’s job was going. He even told my toddler not to touch the prized stuffed cow wearing the “Number One Dad” sign. He is so normal beneath it all. Like any father, he simply wants me, his daughter, to be happy, settled, and good.
More to read: The Accidental Cure for MS
Today, as I gaze at my father, the Creator speaks to me a word about the similarities of our situations, mine and my dad’s. I have, as well, a multiple sclerosis, what I would call spiritual M.S..
While he suffers paralysis physically, I find paralysis controlling my soul under the guise of anxiety. It silences my voice when I should speak up; it makes me limp and ready to acquiesce when I should stand firm. My paralysis makes me afraid to seem different, gives me yearning to please everyone. I feel anxiety at the prospect of doing good for others – it’s too much, I have enough on my plate.
My father has a bedsore that does not heal. I also have a pressure sore, but it eats away at my experience of joy. It cries out for delicate treatment, for I am offended so easily. With the least trigger, I spiral down the ladder of sadness and memories.
My father is hard of hearing, and I, too, cannot hear through the loud torment of distractions – the internet, radio, Netflix, politics, the sensationalism even of wholesome pro-life news. I need Him to speak to me. Come closer, Lord, as I have trouble hearing!
My fingers, like my father’s, are losing mobility. There is always so much to be done. I need more strength, more hands, more help. I am overwhelmed by cleaning up toys, organizing drawers, folding laundry, cooking meals, driving, managing the sports schedule. Children are keeping me busy and I am not always managing it well. My spiritual muscles are losing tone.
Yet I see my father busy – busy reflecting the Word Incarnate and co-redeeming me from my very own sins, co-redeeming me from my very own spiritual multiple sclerosis with his physical multiple sclerosis.
Bless me father, for I have sinned …